China Consumers Raise Their Hand High for Autonomous Vehicles

By  Jacob George and Flora Niu

The race towards automated driving is a global initiative to solve issues of traffic congestion, safety and cost of ownership. However, global consumer sentiment is not so aligned. In a previous J.D. Power Mobility Disruptors column, U.S. consumers described an increasing level of skepticism regarding automated vehicles sparked by uncertainty and fear of technology failure.

When the same questions were posed to Chinese consumers, the answers were quite different. For context, in the Chinese market, words like “intelligent” and “connected” are hot topics along with the vigorous promotion of electric vehicles and car sharing.

Chinese consumers are known for their enthusiasm for new technologies. But will automated vehicles follow that same trend? According to recent J.D. Power research, 78% of respondents indicated they “definitely would” or “probably would” trust a fully automated, self-driving vehicle. This is in stark contrast to American consumers, where only 31% share the same sentiment.

Level of Trust with Fully Automated, Self-Driving Technology

AV Trust in China

In America, younger consumers trust autonomous technology more than older consumers. But in China, this trust is universal—and high—across all generations. It is remarkable that those born before the 1970s in China don’t show significant difference in levels of trust in autonomous technology than those born in the 1990s. More than 70% of both age groups say they “definitely would” or “probably would” trust fully automated, self-driving technology.

The majority of Chinese consumers believe that there will be more advancement in autonomous driving in the U.S. than in China in the next five years. Furthermore, Chinese consumers trust the traditional U.S. auto companies more than they trust their Chinese counterparts. U.S. car manufacturers like GM, Ford and Chrysler; tech companies like Google; and new energy vehicle companies like Tesla all enjoy a higher level of trust among Chinese consumers than their counterparts in China do.

Americans see "fewer accidents" as the largest benefit of self-driving vehicles. However, even more “don’t see any benefits.” Clearly, more convincing needs to happen for U.S. consumers. Chinese consumers, on the other hand, have a very different outlook. They view the largest benefits of self-driving vehicles as “drivers can engage in other activities while driving” and “drivers feel less stressed while driving,” stated by 34% and 33% of Chinese consumers, respectively. Key contributors to such a vision are certainly the busy and stressful urban lifestyle today in China as well as the common and serious traffic congestion problems in Chinese cities.

Chinese consumers say they are likely to “read books, watch videos, surf the Internet and play games” or “chat or send text messages” while traveling in a self-driving vehicle. Both are stated by about 60% of Chinese consumers. Considering the high popularity of smart phones in China, that makes sense and probably also explains why Chinese consumers have a high level of trust in fully automated, self-driving technology.

Like in the U.S. and other developed markets, the success of autonomous driving in China will need to overcome a number of obstacles such as infrastructure improvement, issuing of related laws and regulations and data privacy protection. There is certainly a very long way to go to address all these challenges, but as one of the Chinese respondents said, "I'm really looking forward to the day when the full autonomous driving becomes a reality, so we can enjoy the brand new driving experience this technology brings."

On that point, there is clear universal agreement.

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Jacob George is vice president and general manager of J.D. Power’s Asia Pacific operations and Flora Niu is a researcher at J.D. Power.  Both have lived and worked in China for many years and are excited—and worried—about autonomous vehicles.

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