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Survey Highlights Absence of Consumer Interest in BEVs, Self-Driving Technologies

Oct. 28, 2020
Inexperience and lack of knowledge remain roadblocks for acceptance.

Many vehicle owners in North America are driving fewer miles in the era of COVID-19, but their opinions of future mobility technology haven’t changed much since the first quarter of 2020. However, many automakers are investing heavily in electrification and self-driving technology despite an absence of substantive consumer interest in either, according to the recently released J.D. Power 2020 Q3 Mobility Confidence Index Study fueled by SurveyMonkey.

The Mobility Confidence Index for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) remains neutral, decreasing among American drivers to 54 from 55 (on a 100-point scale) while increasing among Canadian drivers to 58 from 57. For self-driving vehicles, the index is still low, slipping to 34 from 35 in the United States, while holding steady at 36 in Canada.

"Automakers took a step back once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, disrupting supply chains and slowing production," said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human machine interface research at J.D. Power. "With so many more people working from home or making shorter commutes, this is an opportunity to further tout the benefits of BEVs and self-driving technologies. However, consumers remain skeptical because of their lack of first-hand experience with these technologies and lack of education about how and why these technologies work. Until auto manufacturers can rectify this, adoption will continue to be an uphill battle."

The study is the pulse of market readiness and acceptance for BEVs and self-driving vehicles, as seen through the eyes of consumers and industry experts. The 2020 Q3 study includes insights from the United States and Canada. J.D. Power was joined by global survey software company SurveyMonkey to conduct the study in which more than 8500 consumers and industry experts gave their opinions about BEVs and nearly 9000 answered about self-driving vehicles. The survey was fielded in September 2020.

Following are the key findings about BEVs:

  • Rising expectations for driving range and time to charge present a challenge: More U.S. consumers are expressing a desire for BEVs to have a greater range, while having less patience to wait for their vehicle to charge. More than three-fourths (78%) of respondents expect a range of 300 miles or more, up three percentage points from 2019 Q3. The percentage of U.S. respondents willing to wait only 15 minutes or less to charge the vehicle to travel 200 miles has increased to 45% from 41% in 2019 Q3. Nearly 4 in 5 (79%) Canadians express a driving range preference of 450 km or more, while 47% are willing to wait only 15 minutes or less to charge the vehicle to travel about 300 km.
  • Experience with BEVs remains low: More than two-thirds of U.S. and Canadian consumers surveyed (69% and 68%, respectively) still say they have never been in a BEV, with a significant percentage admitting they know nothing at all about them (31% among U.S. consumers and 22% among Canadian consumers). For American consumers who have never been in an electric vehicle, 62% have a very low to no likelihood to purchase or lease one. Canadian consumers are slightly more receptive, with 51% of those who have never been in an electric vehicle saying they have very low to no likelihood to purchase or lease one.

"Right now, there are about 50 BEV models scheduled for a U.S. debut by the end of 2022. In that same two-year period, only 13% of the consumers we polled expect to buy one while 30% stated they have no intention to ever consider buying one," Kolodge said. "Automakers need to figure out a way to get people into these types of vehicles to increase consideration."

Following are the key findings about self-driving vehicles:

  • Prospects for self-driving vehicles are worse: More than one-third (38%) of industry experts say the prospects for self-driving vehicles have worsened during the past three months. This is the highest number since the start of this tracking study in 2019 Q2. This shift is directly attributed to COVID-19, with one expert saying, "The worldwide pandemic has shifted focus on innovation to shorter term and battery-electric offers. This has delayed development of self-driving systems."
  • Consumers’ comfort level depends on their usual transportation mode: Excitement/readiness for riding in a self-driving vehicle varies widely based on consumers’ current usual mode of transportation. In the United States, only 14% of people who drive a personal vehicle feel comfortable riding in a self-driving car, compared with 22% who take public transportation. In Canada, the relative percentages are 13% and 26%. However, excitement to use self-driving public transit has dipped one percentage point in the United States — and is down two percentage points in Canada — since 2020 Q1.
  • Gaining consumer trust is top challenge: According to 31% of experts, gaining consumer trust and acceptance is the leading challenge to the adoption of self-driving vehicles this quarter, overtaking technical feasibility. Top concerns cited by U.S. and Canadian consumers are technology failures or errors (68% among Americans and 73% among Canadians) and the possibility of the vehicle being hacked (56% among Americans and 58% among Canadians). One consumer noted, "We've already had deaths by driverless vehicles. How many will it take before we realize that giving control to a computer programmed by a human, whose motivations we don't know, is probably not a great idea?"

"At the outset of the pandemic, there was uncertainty on the implications of consumer preferences, but the data tell us that attitudes on self-driving and electric vehicles have not changed," said Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey. "We continue to see that younger Americans have the most positive views of both self-driving and electric vehicles. Canadians also continue to have more positive views than Americans."

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