Autonomous features appealing to car shoppers

LAS VEGAS - 

When you’re driving down the road, how many of the cars in motion around you are being physically driven by fellow humans? More often than not, all of them.

Thinking of an answer to this question, today, may seem quite silly. By the time our millennial readers are old and gray, however, it won’t be.

It’s well known that a variety of auto manufacturers and outside technology companies are preparing for the day that autonomous driving becomes mainstream.

In fact, a small percentage (8 percent) of the 175 automotive executives in 21 countries that IBM surveyed in its Automotive 2025: Industry without borders study think autonomous vehicles will be in mainstream use as soon as in the next 10 years. A much larger percentage (38 percent) think they will at least be in limited use in the mainstream market.

“But how does that affect my dealership today?” you may ask.

Well, there are plenty of autonomous features that are currently hitting the mainstream — and consumers want them. The technologies may not be driving the cars for us yet, but with lane-departure warnings, autonomous braking, and guided cruise control, it’s safe to say we’re perhaps not that far from it.

Autotrader recently presented the findings of its 2016 In-Vehicle Technology Shopper Influence Study at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and a not-so-surprising percentage of consumers would like more autonomous features in their vehicles.

After surveying a panel of over 1,000 vehicle owners online last year, Autotrader found that 70 percent of the consumers surveyed are more likely to consider a vehicle with autonomous features, such as parking assistance, collision avoidance and automatic braking.

One interesting finding, fleshed out by Autotrader’s associate research manager Rachelle Petusky, is that these in-car technologies are changing what many consumers perceive to be a luxury vehicle.

“When we ask consumers about what defines a luxury vehicle, traditionally in the past consumers have broken it out by automakers that play in the luxury space, such as Audi or BMW,” Petusky said. “But technology’s really changing the game, and non-luxury vehicles are starting to be viewed as a luxury vehicle because of the technologies offered in the car. Things like Wi-Fi, lane change assistance, collision avoidance are helping consumers perceive non-luxury cars as luxuries.”

Since this is the second year that Autotrader has conducted this study, Auto Remarketing asked Petusky what the biggest change Autotrader has seen seen in consumer expectations over the last year.

Petusky pointed to the 77 percent that want a car with all of the technology features they want regardless of car color.

“Probably the biggest change that we saw was the fact that technology is becoming even more important than car color,” Petusky said. “Car color, I think, has been a part of a huge conversation. It still is very relevant in the purchase decision, but technology is definitely going to have more of an impact now than it did last year.”

While Autotrader finds that the majority (60 percent) of the consumers surveyed think self-driving vehicles are a dangerous idea, there are plenty that are more than willing to pay extra for the new technologies that are out today.

Forty four percent of those surveyed said they would pay up to $1,499, which Petusky says is a bit of a “magic number” in the technology package pricing game, for an in-vehicle concierge service. And 65 percent said they would switch brands to get the features they want.

On that note of branding, while Petusky says that in the immediate term it isn’t that cost effective to upgrade used vehicles with some of the new features that are coming out, the used cars that are most popular in the future will be heavily dependent on who adapts what technologies in their new vehicles now.

“But I think as automakers and technology companies figure out how to make it more cost-effective, it is going to start shifting consideration,” she said. “We’re already seeing some consumers that are shopping for new cars that are going to switch brands if the technology that they want isn’t in the car that they want.

So I think even as people are looking at used cars, it may change which used car they’re considering depending upon which manufacturer is earlier to the game to introducing new technologies in their cars.”

These new technologies are also expected to not only change how automakers certify used vehicles in the future, but also impact the value that used cars retain.

“I think there’s definitely certain things that they’re going to have to check to make sure they’re functioning properly,” Petusky said. “Our sister company, Kelley Blue Book, is actually seeing that vehicle technology is impacting the valuation price of used inventory.

I think that vehicles that are in good or excellent condition that have that additional technology in the car, it’s just going to be a way that they can ask for a higher price point and that inventory is going to move faster compared to certified inventory that doesn’t.”

Petusky also thinks that dealers and aftermarket companies that can add some of the more affordable new technologies, especially backup cameras, to older vehicles, can reap the benefits.

“That’ll really be a way to differentiate themselves from other dealers,” she said.

There is one feature that customers don’t necessarily care for their vehicle to have completely integrated: navigation. Fifty seven percent said they would rather manufacturers focus on better integration with their smartphones, while 39 percent said they would prefer the navigation system on a smartphone rather than one built into the vehicle.

“We definitely see it continuing to swing toward people wanting to just use the navigation system that’s in their phone,” Petusky said. “But they are wanting that to easily integrate into the dash. Some of the other apps and functions that people are doing on their smart phones now they are willing to surrender to the dash.”

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