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Self-driving cars: Are we ready?

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Google Driverless Car

DETROIT--Oct. 10, 2013: How disruptive will self-driving cars be to the automotive landscape? Consider this. According to a new focus group study, Self-Driving Cars: Are we ready?, by KPMG LLP, the U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm, consumers appear more willing to use a self-driving car from leading technology companies more so than traditional automotive manufacturers.

Today automotive manufacturers are announcing plans for self-driving models or teaming up with high-tech companies, and innovative start-ups are seeking and finding investors. However, no matter how great the potential of self-driving vehicles, their trajectory will be determined by consumers, who will ultimately adopt or reject the technology.

KPMG asked consumers about their willingness to ride in a self-driving car for everyday use, including cars from the best-known premium and mass-market automotive brands, as well as leading technology companies. While the list was not comprehensive, what came through loud and clear was that technology companies scored highest among consumers in the focus groups, with a median score of 8 on a scale of 1-10 (10 = highest level of trust, 1 = low trust). Premium auto brands received a score of 7.75, while mass-market brands received a score of 5.

"As cars evolve to become more highly complex computers that provide mobility, it's not far-fetched to imagine a day where our next cars are purchased from high-tech companies," said Gary Silberg, national automotive industry leader for KPMG LLP and author of the report. "We believe that self-driving cars will be profoundly disruptive to the traditional automotive ecosystem. Ultimately, the shape of the automotive future will depend on consumers – their needs, preferences, fears – and their pocketbooks."

Self-Driving Cars: Are we ready? seeks the answer to the question "if self-driving vehicles were available and safe, would consumers use them?" The KPMG research yielded three important insights into when, why and how consumers might use self-driving vehicles.

There's a distinct self-driving value proposition. Get it right and consumers will clamor (and pay) for the technology. Get ready for the post-powertrain ecosystem. Acceleration time from 0-60 mph may not matter in the self-driving era. Consumers might well buy their self-driving cars from high-tech companies. The growth in self-driving mobility on demand services could mark the end of the two-car family.

"We realize significant hurdles and open questions remain, including safety, liability and even cyber-security concerns," added Silberg. "In addition, technological innovation often moves faster than legal or regulatory systems. However, we believe the market opportunities for self-driving vehicles and technologies are enormous, and innovative companies will continue to drive the technology forward."

KPMG held focus groups in three locations: Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Iselin, New Jersey. The firm selected the locations to achieve both geographic diversity and cultural diversity. The focus group discussions are valuable for the qualitative, directional insights they provide, but they are not statistically valid.