UK drivers remain sceptical of autonomous vehicles

08 January 2020 4 min. read
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Despite the best efforts of top automotive players to stoke excitement in self-driving cars, a third of British consumers remain deeply suspicious of them, and less than one in ten would want to be among the first to own such technology. There may be hope for the market however, as while 70% of Europeans and North Americans distrust autonomous vehicles, conversely some 72% of Chinese consumers would trust them.

According to a mounting body of evidence, a stark divide remains between East and West, when it comes to automated transport. While the mass markets of Asia seem to have bought into the hype behind self-driving vehicles, the more safety-conscious consumers of Europe and North America remain unconvinced by the technology.

Illustrating this, in 2019, a global study from Capgemini found that 48% of consumers said self-driving cars still evoked a sense of ‘fear’ in them. This might well have been worse for champions of the technology, but for the fact Chinese consumers threw off the average to an extent. A majority of 53% in China regarded self-driving vehicles positively, but the rest of the world is far more reserved. Of UK respondents, only 35% said they felt positively about self-driving cars, for example.

Sentiment towards autonomous vehicles

Almost a year on, a new report from OC&C Strategy Consultants has shown that despite sustained campaigns to drum up excitement for self-driving transport, this divide still remains. More than 10,000 consumers across the UK, US, France, Germany and China were surveyed to understand how consumer attitudes and behaviours towards the automotive industry are changing and the impact this will have on the industry. What the study found, ultimately, was that attitudes do not seem to be changing.

Nearly 70% of North Americans and Europeans would not trust an autonomous vehicle, while 72% of Chinese consumers would trust an autonomous vehicle. A pervading atmosphere surrounding big technology companies, and the viral reporting of the early trials and errors of self-driving vehicles – such as a fatal collision involving an autonomous vehicle in Tempe, Arizona – in the West may largely account for why enthusiasm for the technology continues to lag behind that of Asia.

UK lags behind

OC&C found that trust for self-driving vehicles was at its lowest in the UK, where only 9% of consumers said they would like to be one of the first to try it. Instead, many consumers said they would prefer to let other drivers be the proverbial guinea pigs, with 34% saying they would be very cautious about trying an autonomous vehicle, and only after lots of other people were using them. A third of UK consumers meanwhile said it was likely they would never use one at all.

Consideration of electric and hybrid vehicles

Another reason UK drivers may be hostile to self-driving cars is the changes in the ownership model they may bring with them. Subscribing to a service of auto-cabs does not appeal to many British consumers, with 84% of consumers stating they prefer exclusive use of a vehicle over access to a pool – compared to a lower 76% in China.

Consumers from China were the only to have a majority considering electronic transport, meanwhile. Of respondents from China, over half had test-driven an electric or hybrid vehicle, and 15% had purchased one. In contrast, 67% of UK consumers had scarcely even considered this option, and just 6% had actually purchased an e-vehicle. According to the researchers, if the UK is to turn this around, the automotive market will require intervention from the Government.

John Evison, Associate Partner, at OC&C Strategy Consultants, concluded, “Evidence in Norway shows that sustained government focus and generous incentives can drive significant adoption where nearly one in four new cars are electric ones. However, the governments across the world are taking the right steps as the introduction of clean air zones in cities is a major step forward for many markets and is a significant incentive for consumers to move to electric or hybrid vehicles. The UK Government needs to continue to take further decisive action to convert consumer consideration into action.”