Your Guide to Autonomous Vehicles

Everything you need to know about self-driving cars, robotaxis, and more

By Ryan Duffy | Morning Brew | April 13, 2021

“Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.’”

This Steve Jobs quote speaks to a fundamental tension in self-driving. The technology has yet to arrive in its truest, fullest form. Self-driving represents the mother of all market pushes, since the average person is, at best, nervous about the idea of riding shotgun to software.

The story only gets stranger. There’s no full-feature version of this product, despite decades of development. You read that right: There aren’t any fully self-driving cars out there. Nada. Zilch.

So why are billions of dollars and the world’s brightest minds chasing something that doesn’t exist?

Well, two big reasons: 1) There could be a trillion-dollar payday. 2) An AI system with superhuman driving abilities could make our roads much safer.

In the industry’s defense, this is uncharted territory. Building a driverless car that can safely and capably go anywhere, at any time, in any weather, is staggeringly difficult.

Let’s take a road trip. This guide will start with the terms you need to know about autonomous vehicles (AVs). We’ll look at where AVs have been, how the tech stack works, and where they’re going. You may have come in asking, “Are we there yet?,” and with any luck, you’ll leave with a clearer sense of the ETA.

VI. Pulse check

From March 12–15, we partnered with The Harris Poll and surveyed a nationally representative group of 1,052 US adults about AVs. Most Americans (62%) indicated that they thought a fully self-driving vehicle is available for consumers to purchase somewhere in the world. As you know from reading this far in the guide, that is not true.

As we expected, younger American adults were more likely to say they’d be willing to try out the technology. Gen Z (71%) and Millennials (62%) were almost twice as likely to say they’d ride as a passenger in a self-driving vehicle as Baby Boomers (46%). Nearly half of Gen Z respondents said they’d use the time in an AV to eat or drink.

Parents also stood out as a demographic highly receptive to the technology. 59% of parents say they would feel at least somewhat safe riding in a passenger seat (vs. 48% for all adults).

Safety: 48% of Americans said they’d feel “at least somewhat safe” in the passenger seat of a self-driving vehicle, but that number jumps to 59% if they were in the driver’s seat. 16% say they’d feel very safe riding shotgun. And, again, younger respondents were much more likely to say they’d feel at least somewhat safe riding as passengers.

Willingness to ride: Trust and safety are the largest reason that Americans wouldn’t want to ride in a self-driving car. “I live driving myself” is the next most prominent reason (cc: Human Driving Association).

Other interesting data points:

  • 75% said they’d like more clarification on who’s legally responsible in the event of an AV-involved accident. Remember the lawyers we were just mentioning?
  • 41% of Americans said they’d prefer to buy a self-driving vehicle from Tesla, over double the share who’d prefer to buy from a legacy automaker. Of those who said they’d be somewhat likely to buy a self-driving car, 52% would prefer to buy from Tesla.
  • Of those Americans willing to ride in a self-driving vehicle, most aren’t willing to pay more than they do now (for either personally owned vehicles or ride-hail services).

And here’s what US adults who are somewhat or very likely to ride in a self-driving car said they’d be most excited to do with their newfound time:

Read the full Guide at Morning Brew.