The concept of a driverless car is one that challenges expectations of motorized travel ingrained in our culture for more than a century. The belief that travelers should be in control of their conveyance (or have a pilot, engineer, etc., at the wheel) applies to how we considered train travel in the 1800s and horse-drawn or -ridden travel for centuries. Someone was always in control in some fashion.
Now, driverless cars are beginning to upend that rule and it’s going to take some time for seasoned travelers to get used to it. In an April 2016 University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) survey about self-driving cars, 95 percent of drivers said that they would still want steering wheel and pedals in a fully autonomous vehicle, even after being informed they would not need these things.
If driverless cars are truly going to redefine travel on our roads as projected (15% of auto sales by 2030), the expectation that we’ll always have an element of direct control needs to change. How will that shift in mindset happen? Is there a “gateway application” that will introduce drivers to an alternative approach that will help ease or even accelerate this change in attitudes?
Yes, and it is already here.
Self-driving cars may be grabbing all the headlines but the most successful transportation management innovation to date has got to be ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. As with taxis, travelers are comfortable with sitting in the back seat with no direct control over the vehicle.
How large is the step from accepting a ride with a driver in the front seat to becoming a passenger in a car that’s driverless? Is it true that “ride hailing is nothing more than manual autonomous driving,” as Tony Douglas, Head of Strategy for BMW’s mobility services, said recently?
The two innovations seem to be natural partners going forward, particularly in denser urban environments.
It’s quite possible that driverless Uber or Lyft vehicles (or those ride-sharing fleets proposed by other competitors) will enable that first step toward more widespread public understanding and acceptance of driverless technology. Moving from a ride-sharing vehicle with a driver to one without may be a more gradual and appealing transition than expecting people to make the jump to owning or leasing their own driverless cars right off the bat. What is more certain is that the up-front capital investment in buying a driverless car is significant, while the cost of sharing a ride in a driverless vehicle is far lower, carries less financial risk, and offers the driverless experience without the long-term commitment.
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 McKinsey & Company, January 2016