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Chinese Drivers Welcome Our New Robocar Overlords

A new poll shows China and India more favorable to robocars than Japan and the West

2 min read
Chinese Drivers Welcome Our New Robocar Overlords
Photo: Getty Images

poll released today suggests that driverless cars appeal most in China and India and least in Japan, with English-speaking countries—the only comparison group—taking the middle ground.

The Japanese position at the bottom and India’s near the top are strange. Could Japan’s reputation for robo-philism be unjustified? Was the surveyconducted online—unrepresentative of opinion in China and India?

In their paper on the survey, authors Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak, of the University of Michigan, address the second question. They argue that “though the respondents in these two countries may not be representative of the overall population, they are likely to be representative of those individuals who would comprise the initial market for autonomous and self-driving vehicles in these countries.” 

Here are some key numbers. Respondents who were “very interested” in having a totally self-driving car peaked at 47 percent in India (a little ahead of China) and cratered at 8.5 percent in Japan. The median respondent (that is, the one at the 50th percentile) was prepared to pay US $1600 extra for such a car in China; the sum was just a tenth as much in India, and precisely zero in the other four countries.

To probe the minds of possible early adopters, the pollsters list the premium that the 75th percentile would pay:  $8,000 in China and $2,350 in Australia, with the U.S., Britain and India coming in a few hundred dollars lower. In Japan, these 75th percentilers would pay a paltry $465.

So how to explain Japan’s apparent coolness to autonomous vehicles? Maybe its reputation for liking robots has been exaggerated. Maybe one’s attitude to robots is irrelevent to the decision to buy them. Or maybe the Japanese are simply further along the famous Gartner hype cycle than we are; maybe they’re standing where the rest of the world will be, soon enough.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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