Big Picture: Consumers worried about driverless cars, Leaf and Volt sales down

Google driverless carsGovernment officials, DMVs, Google, and automakers (especially Nissan) are much more excited about autonomous, driverless cars than are American consumers. A new study by Harris Poll found that 88% of US adults (18 and older) are nervous about riding around in a driverless car. Some of their concerns focus on equipment in a driverless car failing such as a braking software glitch or failed warning sensor alerting the robot driver about upcoming danger. Nearly 60% are worried about liability issues – primarily who’s responsible for the crash if one were to happen. More than half are worried about hackers taking over the car and playing dangerous games. There’s also concern by 37% of the respondents that personal data will be extracted from the car that could be used against the owner. Another news item from last week about automated cars came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; the agency announced it’s moving forward on V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) technology as a key to saving lives and improving traffic flow in congested urban areas. It represents the next generation of safety improvements for NHTSA, and eventually will enhance development of autonomous vehicles that automakers want to put on US roads starting in 2020.

And in other clean transportation news…….

  • Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt sales were down in January. At 1,252 units sold, the Leaf was way up over a year ago but down from the 2,529 units sold in December. The Volt saw 918 units sold in January, down from 2,392 units in December and 1,140 from January 2013. January has been a tougher month for sales and bad weather through much of the US hurt sales, too.
  • President Obama voiced support for natural gas vehicles during his State of the Union speech last week. He urged Congress to support construction of natural gas fueling stations for American cars and trucks. It’s part of his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy to create new jobs in America, reduce US dependency on foreign oil, and help curb climate change.
  • AltCar Expo will make its Northern California debut on March 14-15, 2014, at Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, Calif. Similar to AltCar Expo conferences in Santa Monica and Dallas, this one will start with an Industry/Fleet day and then will be followed by a Public Day; ride and drives will be available.  Partners include: Honda, Nissan, California Fuel Cell Partnership, San Francisco Clean Cities, and East Bay Clean Cities.
  • Happy birthday to Green Car Reports, which just celebrated five years and 9,800 articles. According to senior editor John Voelcker, “many people worked long hours for very little reward to tell the stories and spread the word that green cars come in a variety of forms and can be propelled by many different forms of energy.”
  • At the Washington Auto Show last week, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said that nearly $50 million will be available to accelerate research and development of new vehicle technologies. This new funding includes support for the Energy Department’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge, a broader initiative launched in March 2012 to make plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) more affordable and convenient to own and drive than today’s gasoline-powered vehicles within the next 10 years.
  • Clean Cities just released its 2014 Vehicle Buyer’s Guidea comprehensive list of 2014 hybrids and vehicles that run on propane, CNG, electricity, E-85, and biodiesel. Like its previous reports, the guide focuses on fuel economy, emissions, information on fuel types, and vehicle pricing.

2 thoughts on “Big Picture: Consumers worried about driverless cars, Leaf and Volt sales down”

  1. It’s reasonable that consumers would be skeptical about autonomous cars. Our roads, streets and highways are replete with dangerous drivers, and relegating control of your car to a computer when you’ve had no experience with a self-driving car, but you’ve had lots of experience with computers that fail, can be a scary thought.

    It’s way too early to be gauging consumer’s impressions of this technology except to get a baseline to compare to similar surveys every year going forward as bits and pieces of this technology are incorporated into vehicles and people begin to accept and appreciate how much better their cars are with the technology.

    I have ridden in the Nissan LEAF autonomous car and was astounded at how far along it was. Nissan says they will sell autonomous cars in 2020. This gives them lots of time to work out the remaining bugs, get approval from NHTSA and the insurance companies and gradually incorporate various aspects of the tehnology to bring consumers along slowly. This is how it will happen, and in the end, it’ll be a very good thing.

    1. Good points. I think it’s very interesting that Nissan chose the Leaf as its test model, and Google chose the Toyota Prius. I see an inherent message that driverless, autonomous vehicles are connected to electric vehicles and hybrids as models for the future of transportation. Technology innovations, emissions reductions, safety, and dealing with congested urban environments are topics I see being addressed regularly.

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