There is a common mantra in Silicon Valley — that a child born today will likely never learn to drive.
The tech-savvy and free-spirited millennial generation will soon outnumber baby boomers, and automakers and technologists alike are looking to tap into the desires of this massive demographic.
For these early adopters — “access is more important than ownership” and unlike the generation before them, “they attribute feelings of freedom” more to their mobile phone than their automobile.
These consumers have happily taken to the sharing economy and tend to avoid purchasing big-ticket items in lieu of renting, leasing or borrowing.
Taken together, these trends make them the perfect consumer segment for autonomous cars.
But beyond macro and economic trends, there are many behavioural and technological trends that are driving the “millennial movement” into autonomous vehicles.
The top 4 reasons millennials will drive the success of autonomous cars:
1. Millennials are riskier drivers
At first thought, the elderly — including everyone from seniors to ageing boomers — might seem like the prime target for autonomous cars because of the possibilities the cars hold for maintaining mobility, even in the twilight years.
But the rapidly growing millennial generation is most likely to be a better fit for self-driving vehicles.
Not only are more of them not getting driver’s licenses, but the ones who do often engage in risky behaviour behind the wheel, such as texting or checking on their social network feeds.
Fully autonomous vehicles solve these challenges and pain points, meaning more “autonomous millennials” on the road could help solve the problems caused by distracted driving.
2. Tech and transportation needs
Millennials are digital natives. They have fewer issues with trusting apps, digital payments, and on-demand drivers. They’re less likely to buy a home or car. Even among those millennials who own a car, more than 42 percent of them would give up driving a car for a self-driving car, according to a poll taken last year by LendEDU.
This makes sense … after all, why buy one and suffer the costs and hassle associated with the automobile when you can access one on demand from the palm of your hand?
On-demand services and products are appealing for many basic economic reasons.
Avoiding ownership helps avoid interest charges, insurance and registration costs, and maintenance tasks — not to mention parking issues. As self-driving tech becomes more popular, millennials are likely to have additional options when it comes to financing a smart vehicle.
3. The sharing economy
Another fairly recent phenomenon, the sharing economy, has become more of a go-to than an alternative with millennials.
Airbnb is attracting this group more than conventional hotels; Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services are quickly becoming the normal way to get around. With autonomous vehicles, the most likely entry point will be (and already is, in some places) ride-sharing services.
More “autonomous millennials” on the road could help solve the problems caused by distracted driving. - Highlight to share -
Millennials, as a cohort, are already at home in an Uber. They’re comfortable giving up control over their transportation to a complete stranger; it isn’t a leap to suggest that they would be willing to do the same (or perhaps MORE) for a technology-driven solution.
Taxis and shuttles could give way to self-driving cars and buses fairly smoothly, which will accelerate the growth of the category.
4. The rise of smart tech
On the amenities side of the equation, the always-connected millennials are already showing their preference for integrated technology offerings.
They welcome everything from smart doorbells to AI assistants like Alexa and Siri, so vehicles that come with a suite of smart apps for entertainment and information are sure to be in demand amongst this group.
Considering that the technology which powers autonomous vehicles is likely to be some of the most advanced of its time — and that riders in driverless cars will have plenty of free time without their hands on the wheel — super-connected vehicles will be more appealing to millennials than super-slick or flashy vehicles.
In fact, a recent study found that 70 percent of millennials who do plan to purchase a vehicle in the near future would be willing to pay extra for an infotainment system; autonomous vehicles offer the potential for the ultimate moving infotainment experience.
The long and short of it
Autonomous cars and other self-driving vehicles have the potential to radically change transportation, but there are still a number of hurdles to overcome before we see widespread adoption.
On the technology front, self-driving cars will need to prove conclusively that they’re safer than a human driver. They’ll also need to be able to easily tell the difference between a nearby bicyclist, a pedestrian and a tree, for instance, as well as precisely detect traffic signals (even in inclement weather) and other non-autonomous vehicles in their area.
On the legal front, regulations and standards will have to be hammered out not only on the national level but on the state and local levels. Insurance and liability concerns will also need to be addressed.
And on the cost side, autonomous vehicles will have to become quite a bit cheaper before they become affordable for the average car-buying millennial. Shuttles, semi-trucks and ride-sharing services will most likely be the very first market for self-driving car purchases. The will streamline adoption by proving the technology and use cases while bringing down the development costs.
Self-driving vehicles may soon open a new world of mobility for many people, and although there will probably always be die-hard drivers who prefer to keep their hands on the wheel, the possibility of freeing up time for other pursuits is a very appealing one.
Imagine if you could spend your daily commute watching a movie or reading a book while your autonomous car drives you door-to-door. Or, you might use an app to summon an autonomous vehicle for a night out on the town or a ride to the airport, and then pay for it digitally, while reserving your return ride, knowing that the robo-car will show up right on time and never get lost.