In China, many saying ‘no thanks’ to autonomous vehicles

Few motorists in China are open to the idea of autonomous vehicles becoming mainstream in the country, a new poll reveals.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government announced it was investing $4 billion toward accelerating the production of automated vehicles. Translation: It isn't so much a matter of if driverless vehicles are coming to a road near you, but when.

And while many motorists are looking forward to this being the norm in America – a nation with one of the largest driver populations on the planet – the same can't be said for those in the world's most populous nation, according to a newly released survey.

Only 1 in 10 consumers in China supportive of self-driving technology

Based on a recent joint survey conducted by Tencent Auto and J.D. Power and Associates, individuals in China are extremely resistant to the idea of autonomous vehicles, especially in comparison to Americans. Only 9% of consumers in China said they had a positive overall feeling about driverless vehicles, which is half that of Americans at 18%.

At 1.3 billion, China has the largest population, according to Census data from the United Nations. Relative to the globe's population, 1 in every 5 individuals are from China.

Geoff Broderick, J.D. Power Vice President and General Manager of automotive operations for the global marketing information services firms' Asia-Pacific division, noted that a potential explanation for the dichotomy stems from China not nearly having the same number of drivers as the United States.

"China is the world's largest automotive market, and traffic jams are a fact of daily life, but the number of motor vehicles per 1,000 people is still only a fraction of that in the United States and other developed markets," Broderick explained. "Driving in China is still a novelty and serves as a kind of socio-economic status symbol of having arrived. As the market matures, consumers in China are rapidly becoming exceptionally discerning and are seeking value when considering technology and other features."

Even if China's residents were to welcome autonomous vehicles with open arms, self-driving cars could exacerbate already cramped conditions on the nation's roads. Researchers and accounting experts from professional services firm KPMG believe that once self-driving vehicles becomes mainstream in the U.S., which experts believe will take place within the next 10 years, the nation's highways could see double-digit increases in road congestion among motorists 65 and older as well as those 24 and under, The Associated Press reported.

Don MacKenzie, a transportation researcher at the University of Washington, told the AP that because several studies point to the increased safety advantages of driverless technology, it's all but certain that more people will take advantage of it, particularly those who are older or inexperienced behind the wheel.

Auto experts in China largely supportive of autonomous vehicles

Though there haven't been any government policy statements or announcements regarding the inevitability of autonomous vehicles in China, you might think otherwise given the limelight status these automobiles received at Beijing's biannual international auto show in April. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Li Shufu, founder and owner of China's largest privately held auto group Zhejiang Geely, said China is tailor-made for autonomous vehicles if for no other reason than to better control air pollution and reduce accidents.

"Antiquated national laws should be reformed to encourage automated driving," Li wrote. "More coordination is also necessary between the Ministry of Quality and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which currently have separate responsibilities for product recalls and vehicle safety."

Li referenced how Swedish automaker Volvo will test as many as 100 self-driving cars on China's roads in the coming months.

In the U.S., autonomous vehicle legislation is in full effect in several states, allowing auto manufacturers, once given the proper clearance, the ability to test self-driving cars on public roads. Nevada became the first state to permit this in 2011, and five states have followed since then, including North Dakota, California, Florida, Michigan, and Tennessee, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.