The Real Autonomous Car Opportunity is in the New Experiences it Will Enable

Steve Diller

The idea of the “autonomous car” currently dominates the imaginations of auto and tech enthusiasts alike. The one thing that’s missing, however, is the most important aspect of the vision— the kinds of experiences people will want that autonomy can deliver.

While everyone seems to imagine that riders will be free to text and read, the broader experiential opportunities get short shrift in most quarters.

The unfortunate result is a fixation on the technology of autonomy, rather than the full range of benefits autonomy is likely to offer and the design options that can help make those benefits a reality. In other words, the tech tail is currently wagging the customer experience dog. That approach is a recipe for missed opportunities in the mobility space.

The tech tail is currently wagging the customer experience dog. That approach is a recipe for missed opportunities in the mobility space.

At Scansion, we’ve conducted a wide variety of studies in the auto sector over the last few years focusing on the future of mobility worldwide. When we’ve used indirect questioning techniques to uncover how people might react to autonomous vehicles when they become a reality, we’ve seen a great deal of enthusiasm, and a surprisingly relaxed attitude when it comes to safety and trust.

Given that openness to the idea, it seems appropriate to focus more on uncovering what these riders’ benefits from autonomous tech could potentially be. To do so, we first must ask what people seek experientially from driving right now, because addressing these current needs are what will drive adoption rates as autonomy comes online.

What sort of experience do we want when we drive?

While it’s not often said explicitly, an “experience” is a change in a person’s state of mind. If we like the change that happens inside us when we encounter a stimulus (be it a commercial, a coffee, or a car), we’ll value it and be willing to pay for future encounters. So it’s worth asking- what sort of experience- what sort of change in our state of mind- do we want when we drive?

A simple thought experiment can get at this. Imagine it’s 8am and you’re leaving for work. You get in the car knowing you’re about to spend an hour commuting. Now, if you’re a typical American commuter, you may well be leaving home feeling a bit tired, maybe a bit stressed from getting the kids ready for school, perhaps a bit disheveled because you didn’t really have time to get your make-up just right before you ran out the door to your car.

While it’s not often said explicitly, an “experience” is a change in a person’s state of mind.

What do you want to have happen in the next hour? How you want to feel when you get to work is energized, enthusiastic and focused. You need the drive to help you make the shift from rushed and stressed to rarin’ to go. Unfortunately, the car isn’t designed to evoke the change in state of mind—the experience—you want to have.

In fact, for the last half century, in many areas of the country, the promises made by many car companies about the experiences you will have—for exhilaration, fun, power, etc.—are promises that can’t be kept, simply because our population has grown to the point where all-day traffic jams are the new normal.

But the promises still have a certain magic to them. Vehicle design often embodies those promises. So you buy a car whose shape and performance promise the world, but then you get on the road and those promises dissolve into exhaust fumes and stop & go traffic. Small wonder that at least one car manufacturer has found that their customers find their vehicles boring within four months of purchase.

Clearly, people still respond to the promise of exhilaration, fun, etc. But what if we could credibly promise them other experiences that would have even more value? Such as allowing one to become mindful and centered? Energized? Free to adjust one’s appearance if needed?

Autonomous technology can make this possible, by freeing up carmakers to reconfigure every component of the cabin. The key here is that none of this is about technology. All of it is about the experiences made possible by technology.

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