For the fifth year in a row, DuckerFrontier took advantage of the 2018 NAIAS Industry Preview, to gather consumers’ perceptions about vehicles that offer full- or semi-autonomous driving capabilities. For the context of this article, “autonomous driving” references full- and/or semi-autonomous driving (level 4 and level 5).


  • The comfort level around the idea of autonomous driving is rising, but there is still skepticism regarding the technology’s reliability. There’s some concern that the technology won’t be robust enough to deal with pedestrians, motorcyclists and changing weather conditions. The perception is that road and building infrastructure changes would cause constant updates to the system.
  • Autonomous vehicles are perceived to be of primary benefit in cities and high-traffic areas, where they can reduce traffic congestion and increase ride sharing. Cities will likely be the first adopters of such technology, with rural areas following.
  • Market perspectives indicate that the advent of autonomous vehicles will fundamentally change the automotive industry’s business model. Younger respondents believe that fewer individuals will own cars, and that more people will share transportation.
  • Consumers think that autonomous driving will be most advantageous to the elderly and to increase public safety. The public will be able to multitask on commutes, as well as travel more safely to and from events. Driving is often difficult for the elderly, who may be affected by limitations like poor reflexes and vision impairment. Autonomous driving will allow individuals who cannot – or should not – drive themselves, to independently get from place to place.

This year’s consumer survey revealed that the public’s understanding of autonomous driving has stayed consistent. Despite a glaring lack of OEM displays featuring autonomous vehicles, respondent awareness of the technology and how it should be implemented was clear. Although autonomous driving was visibly absent from the show, more OEMs are publicly highlighting and expanding their suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), often seen as the building blocks of autonomous driving solutions. Although many OEMs are continuing to enhance their autonomous driving technology, due to rapid changes, acquisitions, mergers and partnerships, clear leaders are hard to define.


Consistent with last year’s survey/research findings, the debate largely continues to hinge on the technical aspects of how autonomous driving should – or can – be implemented, and how it will impact our lives. This demonstrates that consumers are becoming more comfortable with technology “taking control” of the vehicle. There is still very little concern regarding location-based information sharing, as consumers have apparently accepted that OEM collaboration is a prerequisite to advancing transportation technology. However, many people still have concerns about the performance of autonomous vehicles, especially in less-than-ideal driving conditions, like rain or snow.

The awareness of issues related to the feasibility of autonomous driving becoming a reality was consistent with responses last year. Companies such as Ford announced in 2017 that it’s on track for a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021. Though 53% of those interviewed believe autonomous driving will become a reality by 2025, many obstacles must be tackled before then. Some of the hurdles mentioned include:

  • Government regulations
  • Liability in the event of a failure
  • Consumer trust in the vehicle technology
  • Infrastructure needed to support connected vehicles
  • Interaction with a large population of non-autonomous vehicles

Respondents have a higher comfort level than the previous year with the autonomous driving concept. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not at all comfortable, and 5 being very comfortable, 33% gave a 4 or 5, while 44% of those surveyed gave a 1 or 2.

Most people expect to pay a premium – somewhere between 10% and 50% of the MSRP – for a vehicle that is fully autonomous, with some expecting to pay up to 200% of the MSRP. Others believe autonomous driving will eventually be introduced as a standard option, without a premium.

An interesting perspective that emerged, reveals that most people expect the business model for vehicle ownership to change. Younger respondents believe usage will be based on shared or rental vehicles, rather than individual ownership. There are OEMs and ride-share companies disrupting the traditional model today, such as Maven (GM’s ride-share program), Zipcar and even Uber. Consumers expect this trend to continue as vehicles reach full autonomy. CNBC recently reported, “While autonomous vehicles have the potential to create tremendous value for consumers, every industry must consider itself at risk from the powerful ripple effects caused by this disruptive shift.”

We asked respondents to speculate on industries, companies or groups that will benefit or be harmed (by unintended consequences) when autonomous driving becomes the industry standard. These industries, companies and groups are as follows:

From discussions with industry participants, the automotive industry has again kept focus on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which took place the week before NAIAS 2018. Previously dedicated to consumer electronics, CES has gained traction in the automotive industry, as demonstrated by several feature- and concept-car OEM debuts. There is a perception in the industry that CES is where technology should be showcased, causing a shift, and leaving NAIAS to concentrate exclusively on powertrain and other pure driving advances. This new focus on the Las Vegas electronics show has apparently caused a shift in booth budgets from the Detroit-based NAIAS, to the CES-adjacent Los Angeles Auto Show.

DuckerFrontier brings understanding to the challenges of a quickly changing market and technological advances. Our team works with distributors, manufacturers and installers worldwide, giving us an inside look at industry knowledge and the ability to create a program customized to fit your needs. Ducker offers services such as: product and market feasibility, industry demand and forecast, product clinics, focus groups, competitive analysis and brand analysis.