Survey shows consumer interest in ride‑hailing robotaxis over car ownership, full autonomy over partial, and a potential AV epicenter in China.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) represent the future state of mobility, with an anticipated $75 billion investment in the technology between 2019 and 2023.1 Once introduced, AVs have the potential to disrupt the automotive industry as we know it, with implications for automakers, suppliers, and other industry players. Although the technology has yet to be introduced to the mass market, the industry still needs to understand consumers’ current and potential future attitudes about AVs. To gauge these, AlixPartners surveyed more than 6,500 representative consumers in key markets around the globe about their interest, purchase intentions, and sentiments regarding AVs.
The findings of our survey show limited willingness to pay a premium for hands-off-the-wheel (SAE Level 4/5) autonomy. Consumers also indicated a conservative approach to adoption, but a likelihood of giving up car ownership for ride-hailing in robotaxis. Importantly, half of consumers in key markets reported they are eager for AVs more for convenience than for cost savings and productivity. Our survey shows that China is well-positioned to be the epicenter of AV development given Chinese consumer sentiment about AVs. Consumers surveyed in China are most willing (84%) to give up car ownership for AV ride-hailing in robotaxis—much more than all other countries surveyed. Chinese consumers are also more confident (58%) and have a higher willingness to pay for AVs, though the premium they're willing to pay for AVs is lower.
POTENTIAL CHALLENGE TO VEHICLE OWNERSHIP AND OPPORTUNITY FOR RIDE-HAILING
Consumers showed considerable interest in robotaxis and a corresponding willingness to give up personal-vehicle ownership, should robotaxis become widespread and cost about the same over time as personal vehicle ownership. This could suggest both a threat to traditional auto sales and an opportunity for the ride-hailing to capture new revenue and profit pools. It’s imperative that industry players—especially automakers—consider the implications of less personal ownership to their business model and to participate smartly in the progression toward autonomous ride-hailing and car-sharing.
The interest in ride-hailing in robotaxis in lieu of vehicle ownership appears to correlate to GDP (and car parc defined as vehicles per 1,000 population): in the countries surveyed where GDP is lower—and thus consumer income elasticity for vehicle ownership is high (change in car ownership to change in income)—the propensity to see vehicle ownership as a burden appears to be higher. Although that trend is significantly less pronounced in the United States and Germany, with their higher GDPs per capita (and car parcs) and their cultures of car ownership. In the case of China, for example, as housing prices have increased and GDP growth has slowed, car sales, too, have slowed. A possible key indicator in China is that consumers across all age groups said they were interested in switching to ride-hailing in robotaxis from car ownership, whereas older consumers in other markets were less interested in ride-hailing in robotaxis. (Figure 2)
CONSUMERS ARE LESS INTERESTED IN HANDS-OFF-THE-WHEEL (SAE LEVELS 4 AND 5) THAN DRIVER-ASSISTED AUTOMATION
While consumer awareness of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is near universal, their understanding of and interest in the various levels of automation below full Level 5 autonomy drops off significantly, along with their willingness to pay a premium for them. Even higher levels, including hands-off, eyes-off, and mind-off Level 4 and 5 autonomy isn’t enough for them, likely in connection with their expectation of convenience. Defined as making their commute or daily routine easier, convenience is the top reason consumers cite for wanting to buy an AV. Industry participants need to be aware of these limits to the evolution of automation and look to new opportunities that the AV platform creates to find new sources of value to consumers.
Consumers surveyed said they’d be willing to spend only 8 to 24% more for hands-off autonomy over today’s driver-assisted Level 2 autonomy from advanced driver-assistance systems, or ADAS, which include features such as lane-keeping assistance and automatic emergency braking. Consumers in Germany are willing to pay the most for the jump in autonomy—a 24% premium—and Chinese consumers are on the low end at 8%; yet Chinese consumers are willing to pay the most overall for levels of autonomy.
This raises questions for the more-than 60 companies investing in a full AV stack, considering consumers' limited willingness to pay, conservative attitudes toward adoption, and likelihood of giving up car ownership. While many companies are working to deliver an AV to market, companies evaluating automation simply as an add-on feature risk acting shortsightedly—consumers are less eager for an evolutionary approach than some companies are hoping for.
Delivering a full autonomous solution to market still requires much deeper investment in testing and development, yet the eventual AV market is unlikely to have 60 winning solutions given the network and learning effects and the low marginal cost compared to the investment. Automakers should consider a measured approach to seeking partnerships to be part of a winning ecosystem.
Buyers’ current caution around autonomous vehicles compounds the situation—80% of self-identified likely buyers of higher-level AVs said they’ll wait five or more years after widespread availability to buy an AV. UK consumers were the most cautious, with 81% saying they’d wait five years or more to purchase, followed by 79% of Americans. Chinese consumers were the most eager to adopt, with only 51% of consumers waiting five years before buying.