Tesla founder Elon Musk said in 2013:
Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety, and it’s clear that we think we should.
Fully autonomous vehicles (AV) are no longer a future technology. Established and emerging manufacturers have embarked on a journey to produce the most reliable driverless cars to compete in a growing market.
But people still don’t trust AVs to be safe, despite the potential benefits of fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, and improved mobility.
We study the power of brands. Our research found that companies can capitalize on their brand reputation to encourage consumers to use self-driving cars.
Consumer resistance to AVs
Customers generally welcome the idea of semi-assisted driving, where the driver remains in control throughout the journey.
But the idea of a fully automated driving mode, where artificial intelligence takes over all driving functions, is still meeting considerable resistance. Safety is the primary concern of consumers.
Indeed, a recent survey found that 43% of people in the United States do not feel safe in a driverless car.
While consumers are skeptical of AVs, automakers worldwide, including in the Asia-Pacific region, continue to produce driverless cars.
Singapore has approved more than 40 driverless vehicles in the past five years. Meanwhile, the Japanese government foresees that AVs will run in selected regions by the end of 2022.
China, expected to be the largest driverless car market in 15 years, has improved its infrastructure to connect more vehicles to the internet to enable AVs.
Overall, the AV market in the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to grow at 24.5% annually to reach a total market cap of approximately $286 billion by 2030.
These statistics suggest that while consumers hesitate to adopt AV technology, companies are confident they can change consumer perceptions in the long run.
The power of the brand
Companies have long used the power of brands to overcome consumer resistance to adopting new technology.
For example, Toyota relied on its brand reputation when introducing its hybrid vehicle (Prius) in the early 2000s. This led to more than 15 million cars being sold over 20 years.
However, driverless technology poses risks beyond hybrid electric cars. As such, the role of brands in influencing consumer adoption decisions can be questioned.
What we did and what we found
We conducted three empirical studies in early 2021 involving 1,157 US respondents.
In the first study, with 294 respondents, we found that those who identify strongly with a brand see lower risks associated with revolutionary technology (such as AVs) introduced by the brand. We conducted our studies on five brands (Tesla, BMW, Mazda, Ford, and Toyota) actively developing AV technology and found consistent results across these brands.
This is excellent news for automakers. Brand loyalists are likely to trust their favorite brands, lowering their barriers to AV adoption.
However, certain brands have more authority than others because of their reputation as innovation leaders.
In our second study, with 288 US respondents, we examined people’s perception of the Tesla brand versus a more “traditional” brand generally considered less innovative regarding AVs, such as Ford.
Our research found that the effects of brands on reducing the perceived risks associated with AVs launched by Tesla are four times greater than Ford’s.
In other words, brands are important. Tesla has a more robust perception of safety than competitors, leading to a stronger consumer intent to buy Tesla AVs.
Leveraging brand reputation
Given Tesla’s dominance in the AV market, what can other companies do to lower the barriers for consumers to adopt AV technology?
In our latest study, we experimented with the idea that companies can use the power of media to change people’s perceptions of their brand innovation. Five hundred seventy-five respondents were involved in this experiment.
There are several global innovation rankings. These include the German Center for Automotive Management, the Drive Car Innovation of the Year award, and Forbes’ list of most innovative companies.
Our latest survey designed an experiment where half of our respondents read that Toyota ranked second on the fictional Forbes Most Innovative Car Brands list. The other half of the respondents read that Toyota was in sixth place on the list.
The experiment found that respondents exposed to the latter scenario saw higher risks associated with Toyota AVs and a lower willingness to use such technology. But those exposed to the high level of innovation (where Toyota came second) saw lower risks associated with Toyota AVs and showed a stronger intention to buy the car if it was available.
Our studies show that companies can use their brand reputation to overcome consumer resistance to AV use.
Importantly, companies can use the power of external ranking and approval to ease consumers’ doubts about AV technology. With the growth of the AV market, companies need to re-evaluate their brand strategy and see how they can use their brand image to drive consumer adoption.
Riza Casidy, Associate Professor of Marketing, Macquarie University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.