Tesla and Other Driverless Car Leaders Must Slow Down to Rebuild Consumer Confidence After Fatal Accidents


Scott SobelBy Scott Sobel, kglobal, MA Media Psychology

Tesla’s driverless car concept is sound as evidenced by competitors like Ford, Google and Uber that are also believers in similar technologies and are in the midst of their own auto-pilot driver assisted system tests. Auto-pilot vehicles are definitely in our future. That said, there is no doubt everyone getting into the auto-pilot car business has been impacted by two recent fatal accidents involving Tesla driverless vehicles in the U.S. and China. How fast or slow these Artificial Intelligence concepts are universally accepted depends on how carefully the car makers nurture their products, their brands and react to these recent accidents that have stolen lives and can steal wide consumer acceptance.  Exciting technology needs to be introduced through prudent PR and marketing programs that recognize the dangers and more carefully sell those kinds of products. As in many crisis scenarios it’s not the impactful event that can kill a business and concept, it’s how those crises are handled that defines future business or utter failure.

Risks involved in important innovations are nothing new. When exuberant inventors attempt to outrun competitors racing toward the same first-to-market finish line, early adopters can historically pay a dreadful, and often deadly price. What is relatively new is our instant media-rich environment, which is more powerful than ever before. In the past, brands and inventions could more easily survive mistakes because fewer people learned about the product news and risks as quickly as we learn today and in such intimate and compelling ways.

Automobile inventors, for instance, in the 1800’s certainly experienced accidents, although the relatively slow speeds of early cars minimalized the effect of those accidents. How many inventors, test pilots and barnstormers died as the airplane evolved? How many astronauts and cosmonauts were injured and lost lives during the space race in the late 50’s and 60’s and later? How many doctors and patients suffered when radiation therapy began? The list of now ubiquitous technologies and inventions that cost lives is very, very long and travels back far into our history.

Most of us are dismayed by the dwindling public trust in the veracity of news stories and advertisements. Still, the ever-present media barrage is largely how we make our buying decisions as consumers. The responsibility of manufacturers should be even greater today than ever before to not only have thoroughly tested technologies hit the market but also to be responsible in how those products are promoted. Maybe, just maybe potentially risky products like driverless cars might initially be promoted the same way many pharmaceutical products are promoted with a consumer warning.

Arguably, these kinds of prudent branding steps and accompanying PR campaigns bolstered by facts and diverse testimonials can build to successful driverless car rollouts. The latest reports say manufacturers are now targeting the early 2020’s for the wider sales push of these kinds of vehicles while reports are also saying

Tesla will modify the auto-drive technology in its cars to require drivers to be more hands-on and in control, at least until the technology is refined.

The recent fatal accidents involving the auto-pilot technology must dictate promotional campaigns that the keep in line with the sophistication of the technology or the manufacturers risk a gun shy public taking much longer to accept those kinds of automobile enhancements. Car manufacturers and their PR counselors need to tap the brakes now until the evolving computer vision imaging technology will be proven safe enough to be widely accepted.

Once the technology is safe and ready and consumer appetites are whetted, driverless automobile transportation will have amazing applications. People and goods delivery systems without anyone behind a wheel will be revolutionary.  Stand by for skies to be filled with drones and roadways to be turned into throughways for mobile robot technology that can be remarkably safe, efficient and society-changing. The pilots and truck drivers of the future may have job descriptions we can’t even imagine today.

About the Author: Scott Sobel is Senior Strategy and Communications Executive at Kglobal, a full service communications firm that influences public policy, increases market share + builds awareness for our commercial and federal clients.  He is also a former corporate public relations practitioner; major market and TV network police and investigative journalist and a media psychologist. Scott.Sobel@kglobal.com; www.Kglobal.com 


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