A recent study (the 2016 U.S. Tech Choice Study℠) from J.D. Power reveals that young consumers are much more trusting when it comes to automotive technology than older drivers. And while this may hardly seem surprising, it is interesting if you are curious about the future choices of the automotive industry.

Unless Gen Y and Gen Z consumers radically and collectively change their minds, it seems that fully automated vehicles are inevitable. In fact, the younger members of Generation Z will grow up with cars with varying degrees of autonomous technology, so the driverless vehicle probably won't seem that strange to them.

It is also very likely that young people will eventually change the way cars are owned and driven. When compared to Gen X, twice as many Gen Y and Gen Z vehicle owners claim to have interest in alternative mobility options, such as mobility sharing/co-ownership, journey-based ownership and mobility on demand.

It is an exciting time to observe the developments in automotive technology. While older drivers (Baby Boomers and Pre-Boomers) are still reluctant to embrace the idea of automated vehicles, the younger generations have the numbers and the potential spending power to make their voices heard. And their market influence will only increase as they get older and more established.

The Current Demand for Automotive Technology

Although not every generation of drivers would fully trust autonomous cars, all consumers who were surveyed did show at least some interest in some of the automotive technology features that are related to the tech associated with automated vehicles. The features with the highest reported consumer interest include:

  • Smart Headlights
  • Night Vision
  • Lane Change Assist
  • Traffic Jam Assist
  • Medical Emergency Stop
  • Smart Intersection
  • Predictive Vehicle Control

And according to this J.D. Power study, cost plays a significant role in the current desirability of certain tech features. For example, 70% of vehicle owners surveyed said that they "definitely would" or "probably would" want Night Vision technology before being shown the price. However, after seeing the $2,000 price tag (fair market value), interest fell to 16%. When asked if Night Vision would be desirable at a reduced price of $1,400, 36% of respondents "definitely would" or "probably would" want this safety feature.

Automotive Technology and the Trust Factor

Consumer trust is very important in any market, and it is also very fragile. Any trust that has been gained can be easily broken if the technology in question fails in any way. As far as trust in fully automated cars is concerned, there is a direct correlation between the amount of trust in that technology and the age of the driver.

Who trusts self-driving technology?

  • Gen Z = 55%
  • Gen Y = 56%
  • Gen X = 41%
  • Baby Boomers = 23%
  • Pre-Boomers = 18%

And who "definitely would not" trust this technology?

  • Gen Z = 11%
  • Gen Y = 18%
  • Gen X = 27%
  • Baby Boomers = 39%
  • Pre-Boomers = 40%

One thing that every generation seems to have in common is a shared concern for technology security, especially in regard to privacy and the potential for computer systems to be hacked, hijacked or simply to crash. So, as automated vehicle technology is being further developed, security issues will probably be a primary concern with automakers. In order for manufacturers to fully gain consumer trust, they will likely need to prove that driverless car systems are completely secure and highly crash-resistant.

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In the not-so-distant future, as Gen Y and Gen Z buyers gain status in the auto market, it seems highly probable that the numbers on these kinds of surveys will change. While it is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy how the generations of drivers that will follow Y and Z will think about technology, if they follow the current trend, they will be even more willing to trust innovations.

And what these innovations will be (beyond driverless cars) is yet to be seen.

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