Kristin Kolodge of J.D. Power Explores New Opportunities for Automated Vehicles in the Era of COVID-19


Kristin Kolodge
Executive Director, Driver Interaction & HMI
J.D. Power

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to redefine personal and public mobility options, automated vehicles are being put into an interesting new context, according to Kristin Kolodge, Executive Director of Driver Interaction and HMI at J.D. Power.

“There has been a persistent gap between the industry’s enthusiasm for developing automated vehicle technology and the lackluster level of interest, trust -- and general acceptance -- by the public at large,” says Kolodge. “Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic may offer new opportunities to discuss a near future in which automated vehicles play a relevant and important role in the lives of consumers.”

While public awareness or interest in automated vehicles is not likely to emerge as a major issue through this disruptive period, it will likely spark new lines of discussion on public, private and commercial mobility. In so doing, automated vehicles could be viewed in a new context.

“As the nation embraces social distancing norms, the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated interest in interpersonal and social hygiene. In response, grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential places of businesses have seen a spike in demand for home delivery services. But even with front-door drop-off services, many consumers still have questions and concerns about the final human link in the delivery chain,” she says.

The idea of contactless delivery—via automated vehicles—is consequently emerging as a factor that is creating a business case for certain categories of automated transportation.

“This is a major shot in the arm for companies like Nuro, which received federal safety approval this February for a self-driving vehicle, purpose-built for delivering groceries. It is interesting to note that the approval was received prior to general awareness about COVID-19 and the effect it would have on every aspect of our lives,” says Kolodge.

The pandemic may also help to redefine the role of automated vehicles in public transportation. For the past several years, J.D. Power has worked with the University of Michigan’s Mcity initiative to fully understand consumer acceptance and concerns about driverless shuttles. Download On-Demand Recording

The Mcity driverless shuttle project demonstrated the potential for people to accept automated public transportation once they have experienced it.

“Looking at mass transportation through the prism of COVID-19, however, concerns about cleanliness and hygiene in public transportation could create a new important human role: maintaining proper order (social distancing) and sanitary standards,” notes Kolodge.

From a personal transportation perspective, the current health situation represents a bit of a setback for conventional manufacturers. As a result, they are likely to delay investments in driverless research and development to get back to basics.

“Driverless applications in this category have been received with mixed results, with no significant prospects for near- or mid-term spikes in consumer demand. The top priority for leaders in this segment of the market will be to rekindle demand for vehicles moving through the value chain prior to the pandemic,” concludes Kolodge.


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Kristin Kolodge is responsible for global research that inserts the Voice of the Customer into the product development process, both for vehicles currently in production as well as for the Future of Mobility. She provides insight into the human element of vehicle technology to ensure the end user will find it usable and, equally important, useful. Since joining J.D. Power in 2014 and establishing the HMI practice, she continues to serve as an industry thought leader for automotive technology user experience and how those experiences shape consumers’ expectations for tomorrow’s mobility solutions.