Chinese keenest for autonomous driving, with sleep at top of the agenda

18 September 2018 5 min. read

An international survey of residents in China, Japan, Germany, France, and the US has revealed that the primary attraction of autonomous driving for nearly half of all respondents is the opportunity for additional rest and relaxation, with Chinese nationals the most enthusiastic for some additional chill time.

The ‘Enabling the Value of Time’ survey report, which canvased the thoughts and preferences of 2,500 consumers across three continents to assess the implications for the interior design of autonomous vehicles, has demonstrated that, perhaps contrary to the projected boost to workday productivity that autonomous driving will deliver, the majority of the hands-free passengers of the future are keenly anticipating the chance for some additional personal time.

Carried out in conjunction with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, the survey was conducted by Stuttgart-based strategy firm Horváth & Partners in collaboration with the fellow member firms of its global management consulting alliance Cordence Worldwide, which among its ten members include Key to Way of South Korea, Genex Partners of Japan, Avalon, which operates in Singapore and India, and Chinese product innovation firm S.POINT.

Building from the simple premise that “if technology can take over the task of driving, people will gain time,” the Cordence study firstly sought to determine how the generally time-poor commuters of the world would like to spend those bonus hours, and rather than simply give them over to employers – with estimates of up to 2 to 5 percent of national GDP lost in some parts of Asia due to heavy traffic congestion alone – the majority of respondents wished to capitalise on the windfall with some extra personal downtime rather than being productive.What do users preferably do in an autonomous vehicle?As a breakdown, over 46 percent of the survey participants pointed to ‘sleep and relaxation’ as a major attraction of autonomous driving, followed by other leisure pursuits such as entertainment (~40%) and eating and drinking (~38%) – well ahead on average compared to the ~36 percent who cited ‘working and being productive’. And when considering China alone, the desire for sleep and relaxation shot up to over 60 percent – with the Chinese leading the way across all categories, including by a significant margin for ‘working and being productive’ and ‘eating and drinking’.

The results, in respect to the Chinese, are perhaps not surprising, with the report citing an earlier study which found that 92 percent of Chinese respondents believed that autonomous driving would become a reality, while nearly three quarters of Chinese participants in the Cordence survey stated that they were looking forward to autonomous driving functions – although the results somewhat contradict a KPMG study from earlier this year, which found consumer acceptance for autonomous driving to be lower in China than in Germany, the US and France.

Still, while perhaps not surprising, or even conflicting (the Cordence results correlate broadly with the Chinese enthusiasm for other disruptive automotive developments, such as leading the globe in electric vehicle market development, and for the adoption of shared mobility models), the results are certainly significant with respect to the future interior design market – with the Cordence report noting the some 23.7 million passenger car registrations in China in 2016. The Chinese respondents, too, were the most willing to pay handsomely for added equipment options.

In this respect, the top Chinese preferences for autonomous driving add-ons revealed an interest in a broader range of innovative equipment options as compared to their global peers. Like elsewhere, ‘sleeping and relaxing’ was the favoured usage type – which corresponded with the top add-on interests in China being a comfortable seating position and a quiet journey. Yet, the values for these options were significantly lower than the overall average, while options such as full-body massage or a surface for applying make-up were much higher.

Autonomous vehicle preferences depending on the number of passengers

The survey also uncovered a quirk unique to the Chinese respondents; they were the least concerned about altering their behavior with respect to travelling alone or with additional passengers. Globally, there was a wide divergence in positive responses to each category depending on the number of passengers, with the 62 percent who suggested sleeping and relaxing was okay alone dropping to just 41 percent if in the presence of another, while engaging in entertainment shot up from 35 percent to 65 percent.

The Chinese results on the other hand showed very little variation, with every category steady within a few percentage points. S-POINT’s Managing Director Georgios Marketakis, said of the apparent anomaly; “A significant number of China’s consumers live with three generations of family members. It is normal for them to look for bigger cars (such as SUVs) and to use their cars for a range of purposes. It therefore makes sense there is only a small distinction between their responses regarding the number of passengers.”

Altogether, the report concludes; “With a view to the development of automotive markets, China can become a leading market for automotive innovation. This is supported by users’ high level of interest in autonomous vehicles and regulatory framework conditions. Both with regard to private vehicles and sharing fleets, companies operating in the market have the opportunity to adapt their range of products and services to the specific demands of the Chinese market.”