For the past year or more, the future of self-driving cars has replaced the internet of things as the trendy theme dominating most of the technology conferences I attend. Not only that, I’ve discovered it’s also become a great conversation-starter at dinner parties with my non-techy friends and family. I’ve become more than a little obsessed with the topic, reading anything I can get my hands on, quizzing my Lyft and Uber drivers, my dentist, manicurist, the cashier at the grocery store … you get the picture … because I’m absolutely fascinated by the differing perspectives presented by the technology community versus general consumers.

All this independent research has brought me to the conclusion that, while the people developing the technologies that make autonomous vehicles possible believe they’re making the world a better place, most consumers (and particularly car buffs) are not that enthusiastic about the idea. While they’re on board for Level 1 and 2 autonomy because of the added safety (most of today’s cars equipped with advanced driver assist systems are in these categories), they balk at the idea of fully autonomous vehicles, simply because they like to drive. Giving it up and relying on autonomous vehicles means relinquishing control of their destinies. And according to many experts, that’s what would have to happen, as there’s no way human-piloted and self-driving cars can safely share the same roads.

While the technology is just about ready for self-driving cars to hit the streets, the one thing that could hold up adoption is consumer buy-in. For every article I read evangelizing the benefits of autonomous vehicles, there’s another pointing out the pitfalls. And when questioned as consumers and not technologists, even the people working to make this happen aren’t so sure they like the idea of cars without a steering wheel.

As marketers representing technology companies that are investing billions to benefit from this growth market, what can we do to convince consumers that fully autonomous vehicles will change our lives for the better? The answer came to me as I listened to Intel’s Kathy Winter deliver her keynote at SEMICON West. Winter heads up the automated driving group at Intel, and just completed her first cross-country road trip in a fully autonomous vehicle. After touting the many benefits: It’s safer. The maps and logistics are better. It will lead to more vehicle sharing and therefore fewer cars on the road … Winter urged us all to “let go of the wheel and embrace the passenger economy.”

A future of self-driving cars

Our job is not convincing people that they don’t want to drive anymore. Our job is to promote a whole new culture: one where it’s sexier to be the passenger than the driver. Think of all the advantages! If we don’t have to drive, we have more time to get things done. We can have a few drinks with dinner without worrying about driving home. The elderly, blind, and physically disabled will experience new freedoms. Teenagers will be the easiest sell, as this generation isn’t as inclined to get its license as ours was. They can’t wait to sit back and enjoy their smartphone on wheels, while they get chauffeured wherever they desire. Parents of teens will also breathe a sigh of relief, and enjoy not being tethered to their child’s social life.

Most experts say it’ll be five years before we see full autonomy, although Elon Musk says Tesla will roll out self-driving in two. If your company aims to leverage this passenger economy, now’s the time to start working on that messaging. Let us know if you’d like Kiterocket’s support to explore strategies. We’ve got some ideas.