Is the future of motoring really driverless?

That’s just one of the questions considered at the Driver Ahead conference at the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), in London

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Is the future of motoring really driverless?

Around 120 of the world’s thought leaders and industry representatives in the automotive sector descended  on London’s RAC to discuss the future of motoring. The main issues discussed were whether the latest technological features of the new generation of cars should lead in the direction of driverless cars, or electric vehicles or even a total change of direction. The wide range of the answers given tell us that there is more to be discovered, in technology and about the needs of those who experience the road sitting on their driver seat every day. We caught up with one of the speakers, Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI. 

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He said: “One thing that came out of our research is that people aren’t crazy about driverless cars.” 

Ipsos MORI is one of the leaders when it comes to market research and Ben has been at the company since 1987 after graduating from Oxford University. Ben and Ipsos MORI have been involved in the conference for a number of years and in Ben’s 30 years at Ipsos MORI, motoring in Britain is something that he’s always investigated. 

He says: “Of course cars matter! I drive a Jaguar F type and love it!. One of the biggest revolutions in the world has been the freedom of personal automobiles for billions, and there’s going to be another revolution in personal transport soon – exactly how automation impacts us isn’t clear, but how people get around is interesting to me personally and commercially, especially as many of our clients are large car manufacturers.” 
But market research wasn’t an area Ben expected to work in when he studied history at Oxford University. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after University,” he explained. “Many of my peers were becoming solicitors or bankers but I ran a nightclub at university so I thought I’d move to London and do the same, but it turned out it was a little more competitive.

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“I decided I needed to get a job and the first thing I saw was for a role interviewing people for a market research company. I did that for six months and thought I’d better join a proper market research company and that’s when I joined Ipsos MORI as a graduate trainee.”

He went on to explain that history and market research aren’t actually that different: “When I studied history it was about processing and analysing information to work out what happened and tell a (his)story or narrative of events.  My job now is very similar: we’re trying to work out what motorists are going to do, how people and governments and industries will react to driverless cars for example, and how many will be sold.”

But from the research only 9% of people strongly agree that we should be moving towards driverless cars, with 42% disagreeing completely. Six out of ten motorists ARE interested in technology but say they want to maintain control with certain aids to reduce the chance of an accident. One of those things was autonomous emergency braking: 68% of those surveyed would like it but at the moment, only 7% have it. There is more demand for that than the likes of automatic windscreen wipers and headlights. 

Satellite navigation was also a focus of the survey and of particular interest for many. It's a relevant topic as from December 4 this year those learning to drive will have to follow a route from a sat nav as part of their driving test. Satellite navigation can be linked with the interviewee’s perception of traffic as an almost global problem.

Although people are positive about technology in cars, 50% do worry that too much control is being taken away from the driver. But in the current economic climate, with more worries about poverty and inequality than Ipsos MORI has ever measured before, it’s unsurprising that the top issue when buying a car is simply cost. 

It appears clear from the survey, that drivers are more concerned about safety and cost than about environment related issues such as the use of derivatives of the petrol, or interested in green innovation, like the possible development of a sustainable engine. A great deal of uncertainty regarding electric or hybrid cars is still the cost of these products, but also the battery. High-tech, long lasting batteries charging faster are one of the main issues that the people surveyed wants the automotive industry to tackle. The urge of a significant majority of the drivers interviewed is to use a renewable energy to propel the cars, but also to have batteries lasting for more miles maintaining the same speed and the same power.

For driverless cars to become the norm in the future, not only will consumer concerns have to be overcome, but so will costs. And for the immediate future, there’s little sign of that happening. 

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