Autonomous cars – vehicles that can operate without human controls on public roads – are coming whether you like them or not. Perhaps they will not be on Malaysian roads so soon but your grandchildren are likely to have them. Reactions to cars that can operate on their own is mixed and in Europe, where such cars will likely appear during the next decade, a study was conducted to find out how people feel about them.

The Ipsos research – which was commissioned as part of Mazda’s ‘Drive Together’ campaign designed to celebrate the joy of driving – polled 11,008 people across key European markets and revealed that an average of 66% of drivers wanted to remain behind the wheel even if self-driving cars become widely available. The figure is as high as 71% in the UK, Germany, Austria and Poland and only in Italy does it dip below 60% (59%).

Coupled with this, the study also found that only 33% of drivers ‘welcome the advent of self-driving cars’ with the number dropping as low as 25% in France and the Netherlands, and reaching only 29% in the UK.

Interestingly, there is virtually no evidence of greater support for self-driving cars in younger age groups across Europe. In fact, 18-24 year olds (33%) were no more likely to welcome self-driving cars than 25-34 year olds (36%) and 35-44 year olds (34%).

The research also reveals a significant emotional connection between car and driver as demonstrated by the following statistic: an average of 69% of drivers ‘hope that future generations will continue to have the option to drive cars’.

In addition, 36% of those who enjoy driving see their car and the act of driving as an ‘extension of my personality’ and 34% agree driving is in danger of becoming a ‘forgotten pleasure’.

“As a brand we simply love driving and this research demonstrates very clearly that a huge number of European drivers agree with us – of course, there is a role for self-driving cars but for us, and for many others it seems, there really is nothing quite like the physical pleasure of driving,” said Mazda Motor Europe’s President & CEO, Jeff Guyton.

“This is why, at Mazda, we believe in putting the driver at the heart of everything we do and it’s why our current ‘Drive Together’ campaign focuses on the bond between car and driver. We call this ‘Jinba Ittai’ which is the Japanese phrase used to describe the perfect harmony between the mounted archer and his horse. It is this human-centric philosophy that underpins our business and helps us create cars that bring the driver and their car closer together,” he said.

He went on to add that many companies in the car industry, in general, are taking a lot of the pure driving pleasure away from drivers. “At Mazda, we are fighting against this and it’s clear from the research that there is still a huge percentage of drivers who just want to be behind the wheel. In a world that questions the act of driving and devalues the role of the car and the role of the driver through technological changes, we will continue to challenge convention for the love of driving,” he said.

Comparisons with other activities are also revealing with 37% preferring driving to computer games; 23% choosing driving compared to a drink in a bar or playing sports and in Italy and the UK, 9% prefer driving to having sex. In fact, on the latter subject, 12% of women would rather be out driving as opposed to 6% of men!

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