Google's self-driving car draws more trust than auto-makers

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Consumers appear more willing to use a self-driving car from a leading technology company, such as Google, over an auto manufacturer like Ford or Toyota, according to a new study.

The study, titled Self-Driving Cars: Are we ready?, was conducted by KPMG LLP. It found that Google is the brand most associated with self-driving cars and that technology companies in general scored highest in confidence among consumers in the focus groups.

"As cars evolve to become more highly complex computers that provide mobility, it's not far-fetched to imagine a day where our next cars are purchased from high-tech companies," said Gary Silberg, national automotive industry leader for KPMG and author of the report. "We believe that self-driving cars will be profoundly disruptive to the traditional automotive ecosystem."

KPMG stated that by 2019, the technology for self-driving cars (also known as autonomous vehicles) would be available as upgrade packages on new cars, and that by 2025, there would be sufficient built-in and after-market penetration to support self-driving software applications.

Surveying prospective non-drivers

Google, which is among the leading technology companies for autonomous cars, has also stated that self-driving cars would be generally available within five years.

The KPMG study was based on polling data of survey groups and the company's Mass Opinion Business Intelligence (MOBI) data, which analyzes web chatter in real time. For example, if an automobile company was to issue a recall on a product, online conversations that included words such as "recall" and "Toyota" would increase, showing a spike in chatter. The MOBI system would then be able to discern what the general conversations about the recall were indicating.

The MOBI data for the autonomous vehicle study was collected from January 2012 through August 2013.

The MOBI data analysis focused on brand associations and self-driving car technology. While Google is the brand most associated with self-driving cars, Nissan is the top mass-market brand associated with them, based on its pledge in August to launch an affordable self-driving car by 2020.

The poll of focus groups was conducted June 10 to 27 and included three diverse consumer groups that included 32 people from Los Angeles, Chicago, and Iselin, N.J. One-third of those surveyed were premium vehicle owners who were more interested in autonomous vehicles and self-driving technology.

KPMG conceded that the small number of people participating in the focus groups, while valuable for the qualitative and directional insights, was "not statistically valid."

Tech firms draw interest

KPMG asked consumers about their willingness to ride in a self-driving car for everyday use, including cars from the best-known premium and mass-market automotive brands, as well as leading technology companies.

While the list was not comprehensive, what came through "loud and clear," according to KPMG, was that technology companies scored highest among consumers in the focus groups, with a median score of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the highest level of trust. Premium auto brands received a score of 7.75, while mass-market brands received a score of 5, KPMG wrote in its report.

Google's self-driving Lexus

Additionally, the focus groups' answers revealed a bias against American-made cars. For example, one Chicago panelist said, "I made it real simple—and this might not be socially correct—but [I gave] all the Asian brands a 10. All the European brands an eight. All the American cars a zero."

The study also found a self-driving value proposition, where if companies get the technology and capabilities right, consumers will clamor and pay for it.

"We realize significant hurdles and open questions remain, including safety, liability and even cybersecurity concerns," said Silberg. "In addition, technological innovation often moves faster than legal or regulatory systems. However, we believe the market opportunities for self-driving vehicles and technologies are enormous, and innovative companies will continue to drive the technology forward."

But not all surveys have shown consumers ready to hand over the wheel to a computer.

For example, a 2012 survey of British drivers commissioned by Bosch, a Germany-based supplier of automotive components, most of the respondents said they wouldn't buy a self-driving car. Only 29 percent said they would consider buying a driverless car, and 21 percent said they would feel safe as a passenger in such a car.

The results differed somewhat by gender. About 36 percent of male respondents said they would consider buying a self-driving car, while 20 percent of female participants responded that way. Bosch, which has invested heavily in driver assistance technology, also reported that 34 percent of the respondents said they believe driverless cars would reduce accidents.

This story, "Google's self-driving car draws more trust than auto-makers" was originally published by Computerworld.

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