Connected cars: Where are we headed?

February 20, 2017



How do consumers feel about autonomous cars and other innovations? And what does that mean for business?

The appeal of technology innovation as applied to personal vehicles is not difficult to understand. The American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that, on average, American drivers spend more than 17,600 minutes (the equivalent of 12 days) behind the wheel each year. Global estimates for how many cars are on the road are less precise, but the World Health Organization reports that between 2010 and 2013 there was a 16 percent increase in the number of registered vehicles in the world.

Innovations that can make driving safer, more affordable, more enjoyable, and more productive continue to make headlines. But what do consumers really think? We sought to answer this question in our recent consumer intelligence study, which explored consumer attitudes toward self-driving cars, in-car technology, and car and ride sharing. This look under the hood reveals that two areas of enterprise innovation, the internet of things (IoT) and robotics—in the sense of autonomous cars as robots—have surfaced as key areas worthy of future development in the consumer auto space.

Is car tech the next frontier for the IoT?

Today’s consumers are not only accustomed to ubiquitous internet connectivity, but have also come to expect it in places they would not have just five years ago. That’s in large part due to the prevalence of smart phones and other mobile devices that allow us to be just a finger tap away from the internet’s ever-growing store of data and to instantly communicate with one another. Our car tech study found that 61 percent of respondents want to see their cars become more integrated with their smartphones.

Safety is also a major factor for in-car tech preferences. When asked which in-car technologies they would consider having in their vehicles, respondents showed the most interest in those that promote safety and security, including comprehensive vehicle tracking, remote vehicle shutdown, and driver override systems. If these actions were made possible within a mobile app, consumers could gain peace of mind knowing where their teenage children are driving, being able to disable a vehicle should it be stolen, and gaining control over a car in case of a driver emergency.

Both the automotive industry and consumers are enthusiastic about how the internet of things (IoT) is moving beyond the realm of business interests and into the world of the consumer. As mobile technology improves and devices become increasingly able to communicate via data-sharing, rising consumer enthusiasm will likely increase the momentum and demand for new IoT innovations.

Autonomous cars put robotics in the driver’s seat

Consumer tech enthusiasts are following many self-driving car projects. Google’s project, now called Waymo, has seen considerable interest since it was launched in 2009. Despite some developments that didn’t seem to recommend autonomous cars—accidents involving one of Google’s self-driving fleet, in particular—66 percent of our survey respondents expressed an interest in trying or buying an autonomous vehicle, particularly after those vehicles have been tested and found to be safe. (Indeed, human drivers of other vehicles have caused most of the accidents involving Google self-driving cars.)

The top advantage of autonomous cars that survey respondents cited is improving transportation for senior citizens, followed by making long car trips easier and more productive, as well as reducing car accidents. Sixty-six percent of respondents also agree that the technology built into autonomous cars is probably smarter than the average driver.

We already outfit factories with robots that can easily complete certain manufacturing tasks that would otherwise put human employees at risk of injury. And as robotics technology gets smarter and more affordable, we will begin to see robots and humans working side by side.

Emerging technologies don’t always follow the same path to becoming mainstream. Sometimes they surface in consumer applications first, and in other cases we see them originate in the enterprise. With car tech, it seems consumers are ready to take it for a spin. We’ll be watching to see how and when the technology behind smart, self-driving cars might benefit businesses on a large scale. We’re already getting a glimpse of this technology’s potential for disrupting transportation and logistics with Uber Otto’s self-driving truck pilot and its autonomous warehouse vehicle. And Tesla has announced in its updated master plan the intention to develop heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport.

For more in-depth study findings, see our full report, Driving the future: understanding the new automotive consumer.



Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Vicki Huff Eckert

Global New Business & Innovation Leader Tel: +1 (650) 387 4956 Email

Mark McCaffery

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Leader Tel: +1 (408) 817 4199 Email