Autonomous We Trust: Tech Giant vs. Auto Supplier

By Kathy Rizk

While engineers at traditional automakers—and techies at Silicon Valley companies—race to create autonomous vehicles, each brand’s technology reputation will partially determine which of these companies wins the future. 

Tech Partnerships_Mobility

Based on consumer surveys and focus groups conducted by J.D. Power, many consumers are more likely to trust tech companies—rather than traditional automakers—to develop safe and reliable autonomous vehicle technology. In short, consumers say that the identity of the companies and brands that develop autonomous technology matters to them. Trust in tech companies is high, while trust in traditional automakers is not universal. “I would say the technology would be more important [than the vehicle’s brand],” says a consumer from J.D. Power’s qualitative research on autonomous vehicles. “You would need the technology companies taking the lead with the cars. It’s the most important part.”

In fact, some consumers believe automakers should partner with a known tech company such as Google and Apple rather than with traditional automotive suppliers who often lack brand awareness among consumers for being a technology leader. Another participant in J.D. Power’s autonomous vehicle research said, “They [vehicle manufacturers] would have to be connected to a really good technology company.”

Many consumers believe tech companies have a proven reputation for quickly and successfully developing game-changing products unlike traditional automakers and their suppliers who sometimes struggle to get technology right. A respondent from J.D. Power’s Tech Choice study says, “Auto companies couldn't get air bags right, so I’m very skeptical about them doing [autonomous technology] correctly.”

As a result, these consumers feel that iconic tech companies are best-positioned to be partners with traditional automakers, as their brands and reputations for innovation make consumers feel more confident and this reputation will carry forward with autonomous vehicle technology. Said a respondent, “I think the technology is going to be the most important thing. That’s what’s going to keep you safe, and it’s what you are relying on.”

This is not to say that traditional automakers lack innovation or are not trusted by consumers. On the contrary, many consumers are confident that traditional automakers can be trusted to double- and triple-check the quality of their engineering, and would not knowingly put an unreliable vehicle on the road. However, the long product development cycles between new model launches seems like an eternity to consumers when compared to tech companies, who often launch the next generation product on a yearly basis and include continuous software updates in between to fix glitches and add new capability. 

So what does this mean for some of the largest and most competent automotive suppliers like Bosch, Continental, Delphi, Denso, Mobis and Valeo that are heavily invested in the development of autonomous technology, and are assisting automakers with their autonomous-vehicle ambitions?

Well, therein lies the rub. While auto company brands are generally trusted to do the right thing, some consumers consider them to be laggards in terms of technology development. And while traditional auto suppliers have a strong industry reputation for quality and innovation inside the industry, they have little to no brand recognition among everyday consumers, especially for technology.

Based on J.D. Power research and industry interviews, it’s clear that traditional automotive suppliers will play a key role in developing autonomous vehicles. But it’s equally clear that the general car-buying public has little awareness of these companies’ brands, or of the industry-leading technologies they currently produce. Therefore, traditional automakers and their suppliers will have to work to overcome their suppliers’ general lack of brand reputation coupled with the lack of a reputation for being technology leaders, in order to quickly gain consumer trust and help automakers jump into the lead in the race to develop autonomous vehicles.

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Kathy Rizk is the Director of Global Automotive Consulting. She knows the strong work the auto suppliers are doing, and is working to help them in the eyes of the consumer.

The information contained herein has been obtained by J.D. Power from sources believed to be reliable. However, because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by our sources, J.D. Power does not guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from use of such information. 

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