Photo: AP

The average new car in the U.S. is sold for over $32,000. That’s a hefty chunk of change, and with electrification and autonomous vehicle tech, that figure could get even higher. The question is: how high? How much, for example, are people willing to pay extra for self-driving technology? According to a new study by a professor at Cornell, the answer is about five grand.

The study, written in our favorite scientific journal, Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies, by Richardo Daziano of Cornell, Mauricio Sarrias of Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile, and Benjamin Leard of Resources for the Future, asked 1,260 people from around the country a number of questions in a “discrete choice experiment focused on energy efficiency and autonomous features.”

After running the data from the responses through several models (you can read all about their methodology in their full report), the study estimated that the average American household would be willing to spend $3,500 on partial automation and $4,900 on fully autonomous car tech. This, of course, is in addition to the already high prices of new cars today.


Studies like this one could be a big deal for automakers, some of whom are likely reluctant to spend enormous swaths of cash on development of self-driving technology, for fear that the return on the investment could be slim. But a $4,900 premium—if true—should at least quell some of their concerns about investing in research and development in the field.

(On the other hand, if you start selling fewer cars because the only thing left is just fleets of autonomous cars that everyone shares, a $4,900 premium doesn’t help if you’re selling no cars atl all.)

The study does make note that opinions on the tech vary widely, with people who are “more knowledge about current abilities of automation” tending to be willing to spend over 10 grand on the tech, and others who aren’t as well-versed on autonomy saying they don’t want to spend a dime. This might suggest that a campaign educating people of the capabilities of self-driving vehicles could up that $4,900 even further.


The study also admits that their report’s main weakness is that, because it’s a discrete choice experiment, all of the respondents were just making hypothetical choices, which could differ from what they’d decide if actually buying a car.

Considering all the sensors and software that goes into it, $4,900 seems fairly low—that’s about half of what it costs a Ram 2500 owner to opt for the Cummins Diesel. Whether automakers will come anywhere close to that $4,900 figure, we’ll find out in due time.

h/t: Autoblog