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Autonomous cars. Who’s leading the drive?

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When marketing people get involved, you can be sure that there’s an actual product on the way. Autonomous vehicles – once touted as ‘driverless cars’ – are in the news. And possibly coming to a road near you.

The trusty Car team at Budget Direct Insurance has all the latest.

Why are marketing teams involved? 

Because the term ‘driverless cars’ has negative connotations and has been banished. Think of the sheer number of people who barely pay attention when driving anyway, meaning ‘driverless cars’ effectively exist already. The point is, drivers who don’t pay attention crash. A lot. That’s why Budget Direct Insurance is one of the cheapest for experienced drivers in Singapore.

For smart marketing people, the term ‘driverless cars’ must also be erased because it focuses on the person who will be losing his or her job - the driver.

So what are ‘driverless cars’ called now?

Autonomous vehicles. That’s right, autonomous vehicles may sound like unfeeling computers BUT they suffer neither of the problems mentioned above. You don’t get visions of cars crashing, and they don’t mention the lack of driver.

But autonomous vehicles still face resistance.

At the recent IAA Frankfurt motor show, the Straits Times reported that ‘most people’ in car-mad Germany are not yet convinced by the technology: ‘At present, just 26 per cent of Germans say they would ride in an autonomous car. Even fewer - 18 per cent - would own one, a recent survey from consultancy firm Ernst & Young found.’

There’s some irony here, because if a German has ridden in a luxury car in recent times, they have travelled in a vehicle that has some autonomy built in. Radar distance sensors that attach to systems that can automatically apply the brakes in emergency situations are fairly common, if rudimentary, forebears of fully autonomous vehicles. Cars that can park themselves are another evolutionary step closer – and a surprising number of cars have this ability already.

But there bigger forces at work here.

Tech startups + car manufacturers = the future of cars

Firstly, technology is improving at a rapid pace. Car companies are snapping up startups with applicable technologies, and the big tech companies are teaming up with carmakers – think Google’s Waymo with Fiat Chrysler, Intel with BMW,  and Audi with NVIDIA.

Who’s leading this drive?

Governments are keen on the idea – even if they lag behind on regualtions. According to Ernst & Young, 95% of road accidents are caused by human error. There were 1.25m road fatalities worldwide in 2015, according the the World Health Organization, which along with injuries cost 3 per cent of global GDP.

Powerful incentives to let computers do the driving.

Finally, demographics are at play.  Ernst & Young found that 43 per cent of under 20-year-olds said they would travel in an autonomous car, and a further 13 per cent said maybe they would do so – and this in ‘car-mad’ Germany. Millennials - defined by their lack of experience of a blue screen on a crashed desktop computer – seem happy to admit that a computer might be better at driving.

They may be right.

For more car reviews and motoring tips, look out for regular posts in this series.

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