Staying in Control

Those of you who follow the auto industry closely have heard a great deal about blind-spot and lane-departure systems. In fact, we have covered both several times here at Driving Today. But now a new study from Harris Interactive throws a whole new light on the technologies. The major takeaway from the study is that while a sizable number of consumers seem interested in buying the technologies, they might not completely trust them.

The AutoTECHCAST study found that half of the respondents expressed an interest in purchasing blind-spot detection technology for their next new vehicle, and that placed it 10th among 66 unique technologies measured in the 2008 study. The groundswell of support was not nearly as strong for lane-departure warning technology, but three in 10 (29 percent) adults that evaluated the technology showed interest in purchasing it.

While there is an interest in the new technologies, though, the survey found that drivers are not ready to give up control of their cars to a machine, no matter how smart it is. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of those who say they would consider buying a blind-spot warning system indicate they are happy to get an auditory or vibration warning of an impending hazard, but they would prefer to take the necessary action to avoid the collision themselves. The same holds true with lane departures. The majority (62 percent) indicate that they prefer a system that warns them their vehicle is drifting out of lane but they would prefer to make the necessary maneuver to correct the situation, rather than relying on the system to do it.

“This reaction shows that drivers see the benefit of blind-spot warning. Our research also demonstrates strong preference on consumers’ behalf to stay safe yet in control at the same time,” said Steve Lovett, director of Harris Interactive automotive and transportation research practice. “This is an important insight that marketers and brand managers need to understand to position this technology effectively.”

Another thing they might need to understand to position the technology effectively is how to get the price down. When it comes to blind-spot detection and warning, half of those who evaluated the technology by reading a short description of its functionality and benefits indicate they are likely to include it in their next vehicle. But when those same consumers were made aware of the system’s estimated market price of $600, interest in obtaining the technology decreased to 29 percent.

While initial consideration for lane-departure warning is much lower than for blind-spot detection and warning (29 percent versus 50 percent respectively), drivers who evaluated lane-departure warning didn’t seem to have as much difficulty with the system’s expected retail price. Once respondents were made aware of the estimated market price of $400, consideration for lane departure was 21 percent -- not too far off that of blind-spot warning.

These new innovative technologies beg the question: Are drivers ready to give up control of their vehicles to allow them to take corrective action? At this time, the answer is no.