Autonomous Cars are not just a hot topic, but represent a sea of change in social, technical and regulatory issues. Companies are joining the space in rapid succession and with each new player comes a flood of news. From automotive blogs to local newspapers, everyone is curious about what’s next for the industry. So, what is next? Actually, quite a lot. Tesla founder Elon Musk claimed we could see a fully autonomous car in just over a year. Self-driving taxis are even populating cities like Singapore right now.
With so much attention, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to get their stories noticed and out to the public. Reporters are getting a variety of industry pitches each day and questions about the industry are leaving many consumers confused about the space. Even as the technology continues to advance, the barrier for autonomous car adoption might end up being popular support. Companies will need to gain support from regulators – and get buy-in from consumers – to get real adoption in the world.
With that in mind, we’ve written a two-part series on how to get coverage for autonomous car clients. In our first post, we’ll discuss how to develop a narrative for the industry. Be sure to also come back next week when we dive a little deeper into the specifics of how to pitch to the media for autonomous car clients.
Create a Grounded Driverless Car Narrative
An effective pitch provides the groundwork for a great story. It needs to provide relevant context and new information. For the autonomous car industry, new information is plentiful but relevant context isn’t always well-defined. That makes it an interesting opportunity for a variety of industry players to provide relevant context for reporters.
The development of the autonomous car has been ongoing since at least 2009 and the technology used to create the vehicles goes back even farther. The technology’s long road to relevancy is an important distinction to understanding the progress it will take to get to the fully autonomous cars we imagine in our head. Currently, the industry thinks of driverless cars growth over the years as building on levels. The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has catalogued autonomous cars into five levels. According to the group, to realize a fully automated vehicle, companies must first take baby steps (or levels). The levels (or baby steps) are as follows:
- Level Zero: This is your completely non-autonomous vehicle. From the Model T to the Prius, this is the car consumers have been buying for the last 130 years.
- Level One: At this level, only certain functions are autonomous. Here features like electronic stability control are established. Level one is all about providing an easier – not autonomous – driving experience. This is the basic concept of the connected car of today.
- Level Two: After level one, the creation of vehicles that take over primary control functions from the driver take root. Features like adaptive cruise control become mainstream at this level. Consider level two the connected car of the near future.
- Level Three: Level three lets the driver cede some control of a vehicle. Like the Google Car, this level provides an autonomous experience in some driving use cases.
- Level Four: At level four, drivers can give up complete control of the vehicle in most driving conditions. Vehicles at this level can effectively monitor roadways and make improvised decisions based on traffic conditions. This is the level that Tesla expect to be available by late 2017.
It’s important to think of these levels as a journey. When considering the levels across the same passage you can develop a narrative that grounds a media pitch. For example, if a client has a new innovation involving sensors in the connected car space, a PR professional can pitch it as another step towards the completely autonomous car. A good pitch should never be offered in a vacuum, as each player in the space is developing new technologies that might lead to something greater than an individual technology.