Autonomous vehicles are a potential rival for airlines

28 June 2019

28 June 2019

Autonomous cars could challenge the airline industry, with most drivers suggesting they would be happy to travel for more than three hours in such a vehicle.

A recent report suggested that without the need for security checks and the ability to travel from door to door, airline passengers, especially in the US, would look to switch to driverless cars for long-distance travel. The latest Autovista Group survey backs up this claim, with 40% of respondents even suggesting they would be happy to travel for five or more hours.

Those who left comments suggested that as long as the car would make regular stops to allow passengers to stretch their legs – likely with the need to refuel – then they would find the convenience of a door-to-door service compelling. One person commented that passengers would have at least the same amount of control as if they were travelling on the continent by coach.

Split opinion

Second in our poll was the ′other’ category, which gave a voice to those who would not travel at all by autonomous vehicle. Just under a quarter (24%) of responses were in this category – highlighting the split between those who would be happy, and those who would not.

One commenter suggested they would only travel for less than five minutes – for example within the grounds of a hotel, perhaps in an autonomous pod – and certainly not long distance. Another respondent highlighted the distance they were willing to go in a driverless vehicle as ′0cm’.

Autonomous vehicles are perhaps one of the most polarising technologies being developed by vehicle manufacturers. There are two schools of thought, and the results of our latest survey highlight these. With 40% saying they would travel long distance, and 24% saying they would not travel at all, it is clear that the technology is winning many people round, but has a long way to go to convince others to try it at all.

The next most popular response, with 16%, was the choice of ′up to one hour’. This suggests that other consumers are willing to give the technology a chance but one hour would not rival airlines as even the distance domestic flights travel in an hour could not be covered by road. Still, it is encouraging to see a number of people willing to use autonomous vehicles. One commenter suggested that they would only travel for 20 minutes, again relying on the technology for travelling around an area rather than long-distance.

Viable alternative

Three to four hour travel gained 7% of the vote, followed by one to two hours (6%) and four to five hours (5%).

For a car to travel the same distance as the average flight, it would need to be on the road for around three hours. Taking this into account, the number of travellers willing to use an autonomous vehicle instead of an airline is 52%, vindicating the theory that when the technology becomes mainstream, it could offer a real and potentially popular alternative to airport queues and airline travel.

A number of carmakers can already see the opportunities, with Volvo and Renault unveiling concept vehicles that show the opportunity for passengers to sleep or lounge in vehicles while they travel. This style of interior will give the passenger more room than they would find in an economy-class airline seat, while also allowing them the opportunity to conduct business on the road should they need to.