New surveys with growing acceptance levels

Some interesting robocar surveys are out.

Today, a survey conducted by Cisco showed very high numbers of people saying, “yes, they would ride in a robocar.” 57% said yes globally, with 60% in the USA and an incredible 95% in Brazil. (Perhaps it is the trully horrible traffic in the big cities of Brazil which drives this number.) A bit more surprising was the 28% number for Japan.

When they asked people if they would put their kids in a car, the answer was lower, but only slightly lower, which surprises me, as I felt it should take a bit more trust demonstration for people do do that. The reality is that if 60% are saying yes right now, without having seen the technology at all, the real number is actually quite a bit higher.

The Japanese number is also curious, since our stereotype is that the Japanese are the people most accepting of robotics in the world.

An British Survey reported similar results, with highest desire in London — possibly also related to the amount of traffic.

Another survey from the UK asked the question “which company would you trust to improve car safety” with astonishing results. The winner was Apple, which has no announced car safety plans, with Google in 2nd place. What is shocking is that Volvo comes 3rd — really a close tie with Google, and Mercedes 4th. Volvo’s entire brand is to be the car safety leader, and Mercedes has been trying to take that status away, but I would never have guessed that the silicon valley tech companies would win this.

It’s even more surprising that Apple beats Google. While Apple certainly has a quality brand, Google is the only one known to be working on cars and safety. One has to wonder just how the questions were put to these new-car buyers.

Yesterday’s KALW radio show went pretty well, the phone-in questions were pretty reasonable. The MP3 is up on their site.

Japan?

I wonder if the rigorous training and testing required to get a driver's license in Japan is a factor here. The average American doesn't think driving is particularly difficult and sees careless, distracted driving happening every day with no apparent consequences (most of the time). In Japan, driving a car is a real responsibility; people might have a harder time believing a computer is up to such a serious, difficult task.

Possibly

Japan’s number for putting kids in was even lower.

My own experience is that once people see it they are willing to trust it — even more than they should. Even 28% saying they would do it before seeing it (outside of movies) suggests a pretty high number once it’s available. I’m sure that when the first automatic elevators and APMs arrived there were people who said they would not get on. Nobody says that now, and I don’t think it took long for them to change.

Germany also has very

Germany also has very stringent licensing, including mandatory, professional instruction.

clear correlation

The more chaotic traffic (and other things) in the country, the happier the people are with robocars.

It does seem that way

Though alas, the cars will come first where it is easier to drive, and later to the more chaotic places. Though certainly if you suffer through the traffic of these cities every day you will be very keen. In fact, you’ve already hired a driver if you can afford it. Though truth is, I think even people who can afford drivers might prefer the privacy of a robocar, as well as the lower cost.

Note that the most active countries for development are USA, Germany and Japan, but of course those are also the homes of the global car makers. China makes more cars but mostly for domestic production. The Koreans are noticeably absent right now.

Yes, the Koreans. I've

Yes, the Koreans. I've noticed that too. Hyundai Motors is the #4 manufacturer in the world. With half of their US sales made in the US. Seems they would be logical partner for Google.

Google says

Google says they have spoken to all major car companies. They don’t say who they are working with, if any. However, as noted, most of these car companies have internal projects of some sort, and the Koreans are the main exception. (Chrysler has also said little, and in fact ran anti-robocar ads on TV. Mazda and Subaru have said very little as well.)

Thanks for the additional

Thanks for the additional info. Hopefully 1 or 2 of those will eventually team up with Google to get the technology out into the market.

Trust

There's several elements to why people might trust Apple more than Google:

1. Apple is known to run a tight, locked down ship. They're known as the company that makes products that may not be the most "open" to experimentation, but then the tradeoff is that it's harder to tweak an Apple product to the point of wedging yourself.

(Example: The Trash can on Macs. You can put things in and out of it all day long, and it doesn't matter. It won't ever actually delete those files until you explicitly tell it to. On Windows there's a bunch of varying rules about whether the files are on a removable device, a network share, etc. and in some cases they're going to get deleted immediately, without just sitting in the wastebasket and letting you change your mind later.)

At the same time Apple's products are more locked down against things like pre-loaded crapware and malware (see the absence on iOS of both, vs. Android).

2. When Apple enters a market that's new to them, they do it in a big way, with a product that is the "done right" version of what came before. The iPod was an MP3 player "done right." The iTunes Music Store was music downloads "done right." TV shows on iTunes were legal video downloads "done right." The iPhone was the smart phone "done right." The App Store was mobile app distribution "done right." The iPad was a tablet computer "done right." People dream of Apple entering a market of products that they currently find aggravating or currently limited (TVs, smart watches, etc.) and "fixing" it.

In contrast, Google is well known as the company that releases endless betas, and leaves some products in beta seemingly forever (many are discontinued while still in beta). And "beta" to end consumers means "has bugs," or "some features are not yet complete."

3. Apple's customer satisfaction is higher than any other tech company's. Sure, *some* people complain they've gotten a lemon from Apple now and again, but anecdotes aside, the vast majority of people are much more satisfied with what they get from Apple than anywhere else. So people have more confidence that what they'd get from Apple will work right. Plus they know if they have problems they can get free tech support if there's an Apple Store nearby, and they're not going to get a hard sell on things like extended warranties/etc. while they're there.

So, whether ones agrees or not, Apple's brand is simply more trustworthy in the opinion of the general public, and this is completely unrelated to whether or not they're currently doing any work in a particular market.

I would've liked to have seen how the respondents would have ranked Tesla, since they're a very Apple-like auto brand. The survey was done in the UK, though, so their brand awareness would be too low (even in the U.S. the results on Tesla could be questionable when polling the general public).

They really should have put in Samsung, though. :)

Reasonable points

Oh, I would not disagree with Apple’s reputation for quality, polish and service. When it comes to computer products, I actually think the polished and controlled world wins at first, but eventually loses to the scrappy and open world, and that this is a repeating cycle, but as noted, this is the car safety world we’re talking about.

While Google’s project is getting pretty well known, the public right now probably sees it as gee-whiz, not as a safety project. It is both. Volvo and Mercedes, on the other hand, have long track records of selling car safety products — with good quality at high prices — while the tech companies are unknown. Other car companies and high-tech companies were on the survey but barely got a blip.

Four words, and then a few more

>When it comes to computer products, I actually think the polished and controlled world wins at first, but eventually loses to the scrappy and open world, and that this is a repeating cycle

Four words: Linux on the desktop.

>the public right now probably sees [Google self-driving cars] as gee-whiz, not as a safety project. It is both.

Is not perception everything, where the general public is concerned?

I don't think the public necessarily sees Google as being safety-focused. What they see are a lot of beta projects, which by their nature are not generally deserving of their trust. Also, Google is always working on so many different things at the same time. As a result, people might not have as much confidence in their focus on any one of them as they might have if Google had a narrower focus on just a select few major initiatives.

>as noted, this is the car safety world we’re talking about

As I noted, Apple has built up a public reputation for entering markets that are brand new to them, without any forewarning, and introducing a high quality, reliable product that not only works well at its main tasks, it does *better* at accomplishing the job it is hired to do than existing products from established competitors in that space.

Yes, in reality cars are a whole different story from consumer electronics. The survey linked to in the OP, though, is focused on general public perception.

Linux on the desktop

Linux is not a serious competitor to Mac and Windows but it is a player. However, Linux of course is inside android phones. (And one could argue that with BSD’s child inside iPhones that unix actually won, but of course IOS is tightly locked down.)

But my prediction about the scrappy vs. the centralized is not claimed to be a universal rule that can never be broken. In fact, that the chaotic wins over the polished even occasionally is surprising to many.

The public doesn’t know a lot about Google’s project, because they have granted very limited press access. When Google (or most other teams) talk about it they talk about safety, but what the press mostly sees is “holy crap, it’s SF come to life.”

You see it as Apple entering new markets? I mean, sure, Apple had never made a phone, but the iPhone was, at the time it came out, really a handheld computer (something Apple had tried at for a long time) with a minimally integrated phone and a media player (which they were well known for.)

Apple didn’t so much take over the phone industry as convince people that what they really wanted was a handheld computer (with connectivity) which could make phone calls. This is the right philosophy, and one many people believed. Of course, having the data connection was more important than having the voice connection though both came via the wireless carrier, and thus the carrier played a big role. Apple did change how people thought by making a really well made handheld computer (which could also make calls.) Once you are carrying a handheld computer, it might as well be a phone and a camera, those are just applications of the generalized device you have. In fact, I find it odd that tablets don’t readily present the phone interface (with voip over wifi) as standard. You can get apps of course.

From this viewpoint, Apple has not done a good job on a product they’ve not made before, though I can see the public thinking of it that way — that’s the cleverness of Apple, I suppose, convincing people they improved their phone rather than that they sold them a nifty computer.

There is a better case with the music player. Apple of course sold music playing computers, and it had made the Newton as a handheld, but the iPod might be the better example of a very new product Apple hadn’t made before.

Depth

You're looking at it in much more depth than the public does, who were the targets of the survey in the OP.

To the public, Apple had never made a phone, and then they made one, and it was amazing.

In hindsight it was a natural evolution of what they had done before. At the time, though, the majority of industry insiders discounted both the product and the company (see remarks from Steve Ballmer, Palm's CEO Ed Colligan, John C. Dvorak, etc. etc.). They didn't believe Apple's claims on battery life, screen durability, user input (no physical keyboard!), and so on.

In the public's eyes, Apple has the capability to pull off great feats, going from zero to 60 in zero seconds (since we're talking about cars...) and not only not botching it up, but showing the existing industry "how it should be done."

So it's really not so surprising in a survey of the public that Apple comes out on top for the question "which company would you trust to improve car safety?"

Apple's image

I don’t disagree. Apple’s image and reputation are extremely strong.

Probably means that to a certain degree they are under-exploiting their brand. With a brand like that, the right thing to do would be to go out and find small but first-quality new products, and slightly overpay for them, because by putting the Apple name on them, you can vastly increase their value. Only top-quality products that match the brand’s reputation, of course, or you dilute it. You dilute it slightly by having more products, but this would increase shareholder value under standard theory.

Most of Apple’s recent buys have been technology components they needed, nothing too stand-alone. Siri is the closest example to something more stand-alone. Perhaps they know something different from the world. Would not be the first time.

High end product producers

I've been thinking recently that since Apple actually has trouble dealing with the cash they have on hand from the massive amount of profits they're making (see their recent stock buyback & dividend plan) maybe what would be a good idea to do with their overseas cash is to buy a high end foreign car company. The market positioning is familiar to them: High end and high profit margin, with a yearly release cycle. Don't ask me which one, because I don't follow the high end car market well enough to know what the values of the various companies are, or even which ones haven't already merged with or been bought out by others.

Apple is already moving in the direction of having their mobile products become centerpieces of the entertainment systems in higher-end cars, and to a lesser extent the navigation systems (anyone who complains about Apple's maps can just download the iOS Google Maps app).

There are also already some crazy showcase model cars that are sold with iPads/iPhones embedded and integrated in their interiors.

If they did this, ideally they'd let the car company run mostly independently, only gradually merging iOS over years into the control systems of the cars beyond the entertainment systems.

Tesla would be a good example of a company that would be a good fit for Apple. It's questionable if Elon Musk would want to sell, though. Still, the way Elon Musk runs both Tesla and SpaceX, a Tesla buyout could be similar to the way Steve Jobs was CEO of both Apple and Pixar, and then he sold Pixar to Disney and became their largest shareholder.

An argument against Apple buying a high end car company, however, is that Apple is gradually moving away from focusing only on the high end in consumer electronics. They did this with the iPod Mini, iPod Nano, and iPod Shuffle in music players. They're doing it with the iPad Mini now in tablets. And there are many rumors that they'll soon introduce a lower cost iPhone to better address China and other emerging markets. As for PCs, I'm sure they see no reason to bother going away from the high end there because of the way that market is shrinking and being cannibalized by tablets, where they already have a dominant position.

Foreign car companies

Not too many for them to buy. Volvo was sold to Chinese interests. Renault was not sold but has semi-merged with Nissan. Nissan itself was on hard times but is coming back. Possibly one of the smaller Japanese brands could be purchased but they are not high end. The other high-end car companies are really quite small volume.

Or so we imagine. Prevailing wisdom is there is a limited number of people who will pay >$80K for a car, no matter how good you make it. Perhaps Tesla will prove that wrong. There is debate over whether there is a large cadre of people who would pay a fat price for a car if given a real reason. Certainly Apple proved there were lots of untapped people who would pay $600 for a phone who never spent that much before until they were given a reason.

"Small but first-quality" + "Foreign car company"

>The other high-end car companies are really quite small volume.

Interesting, then, that that matches your statement that for Apple "the right thing to do would be to go out and find small but first-quality new products" and buy their companies. :)

Also, in terms of computers Apple has gone from very high end pricing to much more reasonable prices. It used to be that typical Macs cost over $2000, and it was easy to pay $5000-$6000 for a top end Mac. Now they all top out at around $3000, and typical prices are in the $1200 to $1700 range (with Mac Minis all the way down at $600). Meanwhile, the first batch of Wintel laptops to come out under Intel's "Ultrabook" branding typically had prices higher than the price of an equivalent MacBook Air.

Not to mention that the iPad was speculated to come out at around $1000, and its true $500 price point shocked most people (months before the iPad was announced, I said "If this rumored Apple tablet really is 'just a big iPod Touch,' but it's priced at $500, it'll be a huge hit").

They also dramatically dropped the price of WebObjects after the NeXT acquisition.

It's conceivable, if they were truly interested, that they could buy a small, high end car company and get it to start making much more affordable models over a few years, increasing production quantity, and maintaining its high level of quality.

This sounds a lot like Tesla's future strategy, again. I wonder if anyone on Apple's board of directors is kicking around the idea of asking Elon Musk to join them.

Small

My point is that today, conventional wisdom is that these companies are small not because they have not yet managed to grow big, but because their marketplaces are inherently small at their price points. When I said Apple should buy something small and make it big, I mean something that’s small because it’s new, undiscovered and growing — but not fast enough.

Ferrari, for example, has no lack of brand recognition. There are just simply only a limited number of people willing to spend that sort of money for a car. Not just a sports car. There were 200 Ferrari’s sold last month in the USA, similar numbers of Bentleys and Maseratis. Only 21 Rolls. 1,100 Jaguars and 4,000 Porsches but 211,000 Fords and 176,000 Toyotas — you can see the very large difference.

As I said, for Apple to exploit its brand in a high end car, it would need to make a car that convinced huge numbers of people to say, “You know, I never felt I wanted or could justify a very high priced car, but this car is so different, so amazing, that I am going to buy it instead of the reliable Toyota I keep buying.” People who have a spare $80,000 in their pockets but just felt there was no point in spending that on a car.

There might be a lot of such people out there. Nobody truly knows. As I said, Apple did it with a phone, but we already know and knew that there are tons of tech geeks who will fork out $500 for the hot new tech gadget. Nobody expected it would be a phone from Apple, but again, it wasn’t bought as a phone, it was bought as a computer that has a phone in it.

There’s an argument that this could be true for the robocar, because I argue the robocar is not really even a car as we think about it. It’s a transportation system, based on a car.

Small but first-quality new products

Oh, as for "small but first-quality new products": At Apple's volumes it's not worth their time to look at small things unless there's a good indication that they're going to become really BIG things.

It's like the calculation of the value of a millionaire's/billionaire's time being spent picking up money on the ground. Apple similarly knows to ignore all coins, dollar bills, five dollar bills, etc. lying on the ground because the distraction would cost them more value than the worth of the "free" money.

Like that comparison

Gee, I wonder who it was who originated that meme about the billionaire’s time picking up money on the ground? Who could it be? :-)

But a company has lots of less expensive employees looking at acquisitions, and the best candidates move up the chain to the top level execs who spend time only on the best ones. However, what I meant to say is that they should go after products that are small today.

Every large company does something like this in product acquisition. Usually they look for ways they can use their size to leverage a product and make it more valuable than it is in the hands of a small company. Brand is one of the things the company has. Companies also acquire to get tech, and to catch-up on something they missed the boat on.

Point is, if I were a small company with a technology to make cars safer, I will only sell so much of it and I’ll follow a slow growth curve because I’m small, even if the tech is fantastic. This study suggests that, cars being as huge a market as they are, a company like Apple could buy that and turn it into a huge product under their brand.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

His name is Brad Templeton. You figure it out.
Please make up a name if you do not wish to give your real one.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Personal home pages only. Posts with biz home pages get deleted and search engines ignore all links
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options