Editor's note: This newsletter has been changed to correct the predicted cost of electric-charging infrastructure. The correct cost is $2.7 trillion.
It’s not in the auto industry’s nature to be shy. But since the now-infamous fatal Tesla Model S crash in 2016, which happened when the car was in Autopilot mode, carmakers have been cautious of how much they tout “hands-free” safety or semiautonomous systems (with the notable exception of Cadillac’s Super Cruise).
This week, things changed, and it’s tech companies and a certain NBA champion leading the conversation. But in a twist, they’re looking to educate consumers before the products are even on sale.
In an Intel commercial released Monday, LeBron James cautiously approaches a self-driving car that uses Intel’s processors. Like more than half of consumers recently surveyed by Gartner, James doesn’t trust the car. However, after a ride in the back seat, the four-time NBA MVP is convinced.
Also Monday, Waymo announced it is working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Safety Council, the Foundation for Blind Children, the East Valley Partnership and the Foundation for Senior Living on a consumer education campaign for self-driving cars. Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote in a blog post that he was prompted to start the campaign after receiving numerous questions from people who had seen Waymo’s test vehicles zipping around.
The auto industry is understandably skeptical of over-promising autonomous capabilities. If the tech isn’t there, ads could send the wrong message, leading to dangerous consequences.
But pre-empting consumer reluctance regarding self-driving cars with public awareness marketing is necessary to further the adoption of this technology. What’s more, if a company’s brand is associated with these education efforts, it’s likely to engender trust in that specific company. And rubbing elbows with King James probably doesn’t hurt. Can carmakers afford to miss this initial buzz?
We’re not in the age of “hands-free” driving advertising just yet, but automakers would be wise to follow Intel and Waymo’s lead in educating consumers on self-driving cars. One day, this technology they’ve been so heavily investing in will be ready, and consumers need to understand and trust it before they'll be willing to buy a self-driving car.
— Katie Burke