Consumer acceptance of autonomous autos will be slow and widespread use may be a decade away, according to experts at a conference held this week by the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. John Davis, executive producer, creator and host of the long-running MotorWeek TV show, told the conference that testing of the technology could go on for quite a while. Autonomous systems “may be a decade away, maybe longer,” said Davis. “The public is all charged up about something that may be a ways off. We need to temper that enthusiasm.” Davis cautioned regulators from forcing autonomous safety equipment on car buyers. For instance, consumers did not warm to airbags for years, said Davis. The recent fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle using its Autopilot automated-driving system is raising more concerns, said Davis. Davis spoke and led a panel at the 2016 Sustainable Transportation Summit, held by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The summit primarily focused on electric vehicles and efforts to increase their use but autonomous technology interested many in the crowd. GM’s Mary Beth Stanek wouldn’t commit on the consumer acceptance of electric vehicles outfitted with autonomous systems. She noted consumers generally look for proven technology when buying a car. “Consumers don’t want too big a change from what they are doing today. If they like an internal combustion engine, they will stay with that,” said Stanek, director of vehicle technologies and government relations. However, Stanek predicted that people will turn to autonomous and electric vehicles as mapping systems improve and communications technology like DSRC and 5G become widespread.
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