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Forget safety, people want self-driving cars for easy parking


New research finds a surprising number of drivers around the world are open to trying a self-driving car.

Nearly 60% of respondents said they would be willing to travel in a fully self-driving car, according to a survey conducted jointly  by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group.

The number was slightly lower in the U.S. at 52%.

The survey of 5,636 city residents was conducted in 10 countries: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the United States.

"Consumers are probably more ready for this than we might otherwise give them credit," says Alex Mitchell, Director of Automotive for the World Economic Forum.

Researchers say the main benefit from fully automated cars will likely be a dramatic decrease in the number of traffic accidents.  Traffic fatalities could drop by up to 80% if every vehicle on the road were fully automated.

Mitchell says consumers seem to be aware of those benefits, but the main reason they are interested in automated vehicles is a little more practical.

"They say, 'Look, what I really want this for is it helps me find a parking spot and it parks on its own.  Because I hate parking.'"

Forty-four percent of people in the survey cited the convenience of parking assistance as a key benefit.

Mitchell says American consumers are much more open to getting their first ride in a self-driving car made by a tech company or start-up manufacturer. 

Only 21% of U.S. respondents said a traditional auto company would be the ideal manufacturer of an automated car, compared to more than half of respondents in France, Germany, and Japan.

"If you think about the tech companies that are leading in this space, or rumored to be leading in this space, you have names like Google, Apple, Uber, and Tesla," says Mitchell.  "And these are all companies from the U.S.  So I think it makes the U.S. consumers more familiar with the stories of those companies and therefore more predisposed to be willing to accept an ultimate product from them."

Mitchell says self-driving cars will be here faster than many people think.  Self-driving fleet service for city commuters could be available in the next 15 years, he says.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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