Driverless safety – global study shows consumers remain sceptical

Business woman's hand fastening a seat belt
  • Poll says consumers still sceptical about self-driving car safety
  • Divergent views on who they trust to bring autonomous vehicles to market 
  • Consumers prefer predictive safety technologies to cockpit connectivity
  • Ride-hailing and sharing may impact future car ownership

While carmakers across the globe are investing heavily in the technologies and expertise to develop truly autonomous vehicles, there remains a significant hurdle to overcome: consumer trust.

That’s according to a recent survey, which compared consumer attitudes about self-driving cars in 17 different countries.

The report by DeloitteWhat’s ahead for fully autonomous driving: Consumer opinions on advanced vehicle technology – includes key insights from research among consumers in the United States, Germany, Japan, South Korea, China and India. 

Today trust is lacking. Ironically, fully autonomous vehicles are being engineered to be much safer than today’s vehicles.
— Craig Giffi, vice chairman and U.S. automotive industry leader, Deloitte LLP

Despite the growing number of driverless initiatives underway, the report shows that interest in fully autonomous vehicles has only risen slightly since 2014 in two of the countries covered by the report: China (4%) and the US (3%).

In the four remaining countries, it has has stayed flat or fallen, found the research.

“Automakers are under significant pressure to invest more heavily and place bigger bets with less certain returns than we have seen in this industry in several generations,” said Craig Giffi, vice chairman and U.S. automotive industry leader, Deloitte LLP.



A majority of consumers in each of the countries surveyed were sceptical about the safety of fully autonomous vehicles. These concerns were lowest in China (62%) and highest in South Korea, where four out of five people (81%) are concerned about driverless safety.

Almost three-quarters of US consumers (74%) believe that fully autonomous vehicles will not be safe, according to the research.


Autonomous safety concerns mirror recent survey

The news that consumers remain unconvinced about driverless car safety reflects a trend highlighted in another recent poll, which found that only a third of Americans (33%) believe driverless cars are safer than human drivers.

The survey by Morning Consult discovered that as many as 41% of Americans believe autonomous cars are less safe than those driven by humans.


However, in more positive news for carmakers, consumers are willing to be swayed as driverless cars build up a track record of safety. As this happens, more than two-thirds of Americans (68%) say that they would change their opinion, found the survey.

Over half of US drivers (54%) also said that they would ride in a driverless car if it’s offered by a brand they trust.

Who do consumers trust to develop autonomous vehicles?

The brands trusted by consumers to safely bring driverless cars to market vary widely, found the research. 

Notably, less than half of US consumers (47%) say that they would trust a traditional carmaker to bring autonomous vehicles to market. This figure drops to just one in five (20%) who say they would trust Silicon Valley technology companies with autonomous vehicles. 

Meanwhile, a quarter (27%) of US consumers said that they would trust a new company specialising in autonomous vehicle technology.

Japanese consumers (76%) place the greatest trust in traditional car manufacturers to bring fully autonomous vehicles to market, while the lowest trust was shown by consumers in China and India – at 27% and 34%, respectively. 

Elsewhere, just under half of South Korean consumers (44%) said that they would trust a traditional car manufacturer, with a slight majority (51%) willing to do so in Germany. 

“Automakers and technology companies first have to earn consumers’ trust, then turn that trust into a willingness to pay for a must-have feature,” said Giffi. 

“Today trust is lacking. Ironically, fully autonomous vehicles are being engineered to be much safer than today’s vehicles.

“To win consumers’ trust, automakers will need to integrate limited self-driving and advanced-safety features into new product offerings steadily over time to introduce people to the technology, demonstrate the improvement for vehicle safety and develop a proven track record,” said Giffi.

Safety first – consumer priorities for advanced technologies

With autonomous technologies set to improve road safety, consumers expressed a clear preference for predictive safety capabilities when questioned about advanced technology features.

From a list of more than 30 potential features, participants across the six focus countries agreed that four predictive safety capabilities were most useful: features that recognise objects on the road in order to avoid collision, inform the driver of dangerous driving situations or take action to prevent them, or assist in a medical emergency or accident.

Consistent with their views that advanced safety features are most useful, consumers are far more willing to pay for these features versus other technologies such as connectivity and cockpit convenience features.
— Joe Vitale, global automotive industry leader at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

Importantly for manufacturers deciding which technologies to invest in, consumers see some features as less useful – for example, technologies that provide customised entertainment, or forms of cockpit connectivity such as alerting the driver to nearby places of interest.

According to the research, consumers were also ambivalent about features to manage daily driving activities, such as: finding, reserving and paying for parking or tolls; connectivity linking to automated home control systems; and the ability to enable smartphone applications through the vehicle's dashboard.

Who should pay for autonomous technologies?

As they focus on the most useful technology features, American consumers also appear to have reassessed the amount they are willing to spend on these technologies.

In a previous study by Deloitte in 2014, this figure averaged $1,370 across five technology categories, but fell to $925 in this survey. In Japan, it almost halved, dropping from $700 to just $360.

Joe Vitale, global automotive industry leader at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and co-author of the report, said: “Consistent with their views that advanced safety features are most useful, consumers are far more willing to pay for these features versus other technologies such as connectivity and cockpit convenience features.

“Consumers expect those to be a part of the base price at no additional cost.”

“It’s a genuine dilemma for automakers,” said Giffi. “Many of the technologies automakers are investing heavily in today, are not considered useful, safe or preferred by the consumers we surveyed, and under very few circumstances are they willing to pay anything extra for these technologies. The desire for safety features seems to be the lone bright spot.”

Will ride-hailing and sharing threaten car ownership?

As carmakers assess the longer-term impact of ride-hailing and sharing services, Deloitte found that consumers already using these services are most likely to question the need for future vehicle ownership.

In India, for example, where almost half of consumers use ride-hailing services, nearly two-thirds of respondents (61%) question whether they will need to own a vehicle. In the US, the figure stands at 52%, although these numbers increased further among Generations Y and Z.

“Ride-hailing represents a major threat or a significant opportunity for automakers depending upon how and where they decide to play in this emerging market,” said Vitale.

The car ownership findings reflect the views of UK automotive executives questioned for a recent survey by KPMG, which suggested that more than half of today’s car owners will not want to own a vehicles in less than 10 years.