July 18, 2018
By Atsushi Kawahashi
Picture this: It is the year 2035 in Japan and you have just hailed a car from a car-sharing company with your smartwatch. An all-electric, fully automated car arrives with no driver onboard. After telling the car of the destination, you are free to work! Your mind is at ease since the risk of collisions and being stuck in traffic is very low due to the high volume of automated vehicles on the highways.
While this seems like a dream scenario in 2018, day by day it is becoming more of a reality. Multiple factors are accelerating automated vehicle technology development, including improving safety (ideally to the goal of zero fatalities), eliminating congestion, reducing pollution and creating a socially equitable mobility model. These goals are not unique to Japan; such a vision is shared around the world.
But technical feasibility is only one piece of the puzzle. Are consumers in Japan ready for such a future?
According to a recent pulse survey by J.D. Power focused on Japanese consumers’ acceptance of new mobility concepts, there is a distinction between the consumers’ level of trust with Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS) vs. with a fully automated vehicle. However, we find that Japanese consumers’ reluctance toward full automation is not as severe as in countries like the United States and Germany. What is notable in Japan is the positive attitudes towards ADAS, which are some of the foundational building blocks of automated driving.
Level of Trust with Automated Technologies in Japan
It may be difficult to believe that roughly 20 years have passed since the early ADAS technologies first appeared on the market. During that time, ADAS prices have decreased, penetration rates have increased and the technological pathway for automated vehicles is becoming more realistic.
Nissan's semi-automated Pro Pilot system became an instant hit when it was first launched in 2016 in Japan. Pro Pilot currently combines Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane-Keeping Assistance System (LKAS). Nissan was commended for their product marketing decision to launch this technology on their bread-and-butter minivan, the Serena. This option is bundled with other features and is priced closed to $2,000. To date, nearly half of Serena customers have purchased this package with the motivating reason being they wanted to experience automated driving. Such a large audience of consumers experiencing the technology signifies hope.
If consumers have a positive experience with ADAS systems such as Pro Pilot, trust will build and this will increase the likelihood of consumers wanting greater capabilities of automated driving. However, in addition to experience, manufacturers must be cognizant of other consumer concerns and proactively address them. J.D. Power recently reported that consumers in the U.S., China and Germany are most concerned with the possibility of a technology failure or error. In Japan, the top anxiety surrounds undeveloped laws and regulations that define what happens after a crash.
Main Concerns with Fully Automated Vehicles
While it seems that most users are still feeling insecure about automated vehicles, today’s car-based mobility model is simply not economical or sustainable. With fully automated vehicle technology just around the corner, it is critical to align consumer expectations and build their trust. Furthermore, transparent conversations with consumers about what this new mobility model can provide will help build greater understanding and eventual enthusiasm.
These are not dreams anymore with technology catching up with our vision for the mobility of tomorrow. We are now at a stage where we can include consumers in the discussions about the improved lives which the technology can bring. It is time for both the government and manufacturers to paint the picture of the possibilities of automated driving and present it as a credible message to the public. Both entities should work collaboratively to overcome this promising mobility concept’s stumbling blocks, such as reliability of technology, legal system and infrastructure, and drive public opinion to the exciting world of the mobility of tomorrow.
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Atsushi Kawahashi is senior director in the J.D. Power Japan Automotive Division. While he has great interest in advanced safety technologies, he drives a vintage car from the ‘70s, well before airbags and ABS. He is passionate about driving, even if it is a rental car.
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