German angst thwarts autonomous driving

Market news |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Autonomous driving is one of the central mobility trends of the future. But acceptance varies between different population groups. This is shown by a cooperative study by YouGov and CAM, which took a closer look at the acceptance of the technology in Germany.

Will robotaxis and autonomous shuttles soon become important means of transport? In the US cities of San Francisco and Phoenix, autonomous taxis without safety drivers are already carrying passengers. Mercedes-Benz is the first car manufacturer in the world to be allowed to offer autonomous driving for its vehicles in regular operation in Germany, including on motorways. For the first time, the vehicle manufacturer is responsible for the driving task; the driver becomes a passenger and can devote himself to other things. He can even legally watch films or answer e-mails. The development efforts of the automotive industry show: In the long term, motor vehicles will drive fully autonomously and humans will become passengers in many everyday situations. But how are these development trends perceived by consumers?

A recent survey by the international data & analytics group YouGov in cooperation with the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) has shown that at least the German population is still quite sceptical about autonomous vehicles. 49% of those surveyed cannot currently imagine using fully autonomous vehicles, for example in the form of robotaxis. Nevertheless, almost every fifth respondent can imagine using autonomous vehicles very well (18%). Overall, it can be seen that younger age groups have a much more positive attitude towards autonomous vehicles: Around 63 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds can imagine using them “very well” (28%) or “perhaps” (35%). In contrast, scepticism grows with the age of the respondents: the generation of over 55-year-olds is 61% against the use of any offers, while the group of 35 to 54-year-olds is more open to the use.

Nevertheless, advantages are perceived. The study participants see time savings (27%) and safety (26%) as the most important advantages of autonomous vehicles. Passengers can divert their attention to other activities such as work, reading or sleeping while driving and leave the driving task to the autonomously operating vehicle. The fact that an autonomous vehicle is involved in fewer accidents than passenger cars driven by humans and thus increases the safety of the occupants underlines the trust that just over a quarter of the respondents place in the technology. The study participants see further advantages in increased efficiency and environmental compatibility (19%), lower maintenance costs (19%) and a demand-oriented mobility offer available at short notice (19% and 18%).

However, there is also a high degree of scepticism: 29% of the respondents state that they do not see any advantages of autonomous vehicles. This is mainly due to the concerns of the 55+ generation (42%), while younger sections of the population definitely associate advantages with the use of autonomous vehicles.

In order to increase the acceptance of robotaxis, the existing reservations must be taken into account, the study concludes. Autonomous vehicles trigger fears and uncertainties. Around half of the respondents (48%) doubt the fundamental safety of vehicles that are no longer controlled by humans. 39% fear being involved in accidents. At the same time, the cyber security risk is seen as a problem, i.e. the fear of hacker attacks or the possible manipulation of vehicles (40%). Other concerns include worries about the loss of data privacy (21%) and uncertainty in the event of a breakdown situation (19%). Only 5% say they have no concerns about using autonomous vehicles.

The proportion of concerns is homogeneously distributed within the age groups, so that even the younger generation has at least one doubt about autonomous driving. The survey shows that the openness towards autonomous driving in the population is still quite restrained. Younger people are currently more inclined to use autonomous services, while scepticism is much more pronounced among the over-55 generation. The general affinity of Generation Y and Z with technology is likely to play an important role here. While there is a great deal of overlap in the perceived disadvantages, the respondents find it difficult to identify clear advantages from the use of autonomous vehicles.

The greatest doubts stem from a fundamental feeling of insecurity as well as various fears of hacker attacks or accidents. The people who perceive advantages in autonomous driving have an overall stronger trust in the technology and therefore feel safer than in a human-driven vehicle. In addition, the factors of time savings, environmental compatibility as well as maintenance costs are of great importance.

The study limited its survey to German participants. Therefore, no clear statement can be made about the acceptance of robotaxis in other countries. However, experience shows that the fluctuations are rather small in European comparison.

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