The One Thing Autonomous Vehicle Developers Aren’t Doing, But Should Be

September 29, 2017
Matthew Kagel, Associate Vice President, Client Relations

While autonomous vehicle (self-driving cars) legislation is merging into the fast lane, manufacturers need consumers to ride shotgun. And although semi-autonomous vehicles aren’t predicted to hit the market until around 2020 (for ride-sharing or for purchase), policymakers aren’t hesitating to clear the road for seamless development and deployment. Just within the past month:

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the SELF DRIVE Act in a 54-0 unanimous vote.
  • The Senate convened a hearing titled “Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and our Nation’s Highways,” examining the impact of self-driving trucks on jobs and the economy.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) released its new rules and guidelines for self-driving cars, “A Vision for Safety.”
  • The Senate reached a bipartisan deal aimed at getting self-driving cars to drivers sooner.
  • Gary Peters (D-Mich.) targets Oct. 4 for bill markup.

The SELF DRIVE Act is the first piece of federal legislation regarding the development of self-driving cars, and it gives the federal government authority to exempt automakers from certain safety standards. Prior to this legislation, individual states and municipal laws and regulations controlled AV rollout, creating an off-kilter checks-and-balances for these standards. Lawmakers are hoping this bill will streamline the process of development and testing AV and keep the U.S. ahead of the curve in bringing AVs to market—and it seems to be as bipartisan of an issue as one can hope for at this time.

However, as we get closer to making AVs a reality, the multifaceted public relations and policy aspects will become increasingly difficult to maneuver.

A new survey of more than 1,500 American drivers by AlixPartners revealed that 49 percent of consumers don’t feel confident in AVs’ capabilities, and 55 percent said they are unlikely to consider purchasing an AV. Echoing results from a DDC survey released nearly a year ago, it’s clear that perceptions haven’t shifted and consumers are still hesitant to embrace AVs.

These numbers are staggering considering 97 percent of the same respondents are aware of the AV concept and despite the repeated claims of the crash-safety benefits, traffic fluidity, and decrease in DUIs.

This is a rare instance where policy is moving faster than public opinion, and it could have drastic effects on the adoption and success of autonomous vehicles. The race to be first to market with AVs is ignoring key concerns from consumers. After all, first to market does not necessarily mean first to profit.

So what’s a winning strategy for tech companies and automakers to ensure effective AV deployment and adoption?

  1. Listen to your audience and publically address key concerns regarding safety, security and reliability through legislative support and proactive outreach.
  2. Target the innovators and early adopters NOW. They will give credibility to the early majority down the road.
  3. Spearhead initiatives that make AVs real and applicable to everyday life.
  4. Have an active presence in the industries that make AVs possible: infrastructure, cybersecurity, and liabilities.

As we edge closer to fully autonomous vehicles and Congress continues to tear down roadblocks for their development, favorable public perceptions and opinions for these technologies will need to increase simultaneously. AV developers are so focused on the next auto revolution that they’re ignoring the biggest aspect that will make the AV auto revolution a success—their audience.

AV developers who are empathetic to their audience and are proactive and forward-thinking about shaping public opinion will ultimately be the winners in this revolutionary race—and the time to start is now.

Matthew Kagel is an Associate Vice President at DDC Public Affairs where he helps lead the firm’s Technology Industry Practice.


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