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Millennials are the demographic most open to self-driving cars, but not by much

Published Apr 14th, 2019 9:32AM EDT
Future of self driving cars
Image: Waymo

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Ford chief executive Jim Hackett made news a few days ago when he seemed to pour a bit of cold water on the carmaker’s autonomous vehicle ambitions, telling the Detroit Economic Club that “we overestimated the arrival” of self-driving cars. Hackett, who was once in charge of the autonomous vehicle unit at Ford, said such cars are still forthcoming from the company in a couple of years as planned, but their applications will be narrow. Making it a reflection of Ford, as other carmakers not named Tesla are currently doing, sort of dipping their toe into the self-driving waters — as opposed to diving in head-first.

A new study from HarrisX sheds some possible light on why that’s the case, with a full third of the Americans polled saying they believe self-driving cars are a bad idea.

We’ve reported on data and studies before that reach this same conclusion, such as the American Automobile Association report we told you about just last month showing that most of the general public (71% of respondents) admitted they’re definitely afraid to ride in a self-driving car. Here, meanwhile, are some of the key findings from HarrisX’s new study:

A quarter of respondents admitted they are “very afraid” about the idea of a self-driving car. Just 7% described themselves as “very familiar” with self-driving cars, while almost 60% confessed to having little familiarity at all.

Kara Swisher wrote in a New York Times opinion piece last month that “owning a car will soon be as quaint as owning a horse,” thanks to the rise of ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft. However, this new HarrisX analysis shows that, while people generally remain fearful of self-driving cars, Americans of all ages still see car ownership as important, giving them a sense of freedom to go where they want, when they want, as well as owning a car as a rite of passage.

Almost 90% of respondents said their concerns about self-driving cars are focused on possible “technology glitches.” Also, another 70% believe that self-driving car tech is developing at a faster-than-expected pace.

If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s arguably that almost 50% of millennials believe self-driving cars are a good idea. Among that group, though, half say they wouldn’t feel comfortable in such a car that’s driving faster than 65 miles per hour. The larger point about millennials, though, is arguably the most critical finding of the study. It’s a demographic that, certainly, will be around longer than older car buyers, giving self-driving car manufacturers the chance to sell maybe as many as two or even three cars to this group over their lifetime.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that a majority of millennials still aren’t board with this idea, so it will be incumbent on carmakers to do more to win over this demographic as time goes on.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.