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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Early rollouts of autonomous vehicles are showing how divided AV companies are on the best way to win over consumers.

Why it matters: Companies are pouring billions of dollars into autonomous vehicle technology, but almost three-quarters of American drivers say they would be too afraid to ride in one. Consumer trust — as much as the technology's readiness — is shaping the way AVs come to market.

What's happening: In an effort to win public confidence, AV makers are educating consumers and introducing them to the technology through an array of real-world experiences.

  • Waymo launched the nation's first commercial robotaxi service this week in Phoenix, starting slowly in a well-practiced area. In Columbus, May Mobility began offering free rides to tourist destinations in its low-speed autonomous shuttles.

The different approaches...

1. Robotaxi fleets in pre-mapped areas. These fully self-driving AVs stick to limited geographic areas they already know, which limits the number of scenarios they have to handle.

  • This could work well in urban areas connecting commuters to their final destination as a last-mile solution. This approach is favored by most American and Chinese AV companies.

2. Gradual autonomy. Today's new cars often have some driver assistance features, like blind-spot monitoring or adaptive cruise control.

  • By adding more advanced features like lane-centering and low-speed traffic jam assist, the hope is that people will grow more comfortable with what their car can do. Tesla and most European luxury automakers think this is the best approach.

3. L0w-speed micro shuttles. Self-driving mini-buses are limited to 25 miles per hour and often operate on fixed routes, which makes them well-suited for campuses and retirement communities, for example.

4. Autonomous goods delivery. Some people might be more willing to put their groceries at risk in an AV before riding in one themselves.

  • Ford and startups like Nuro are partnering with retailers to test these robodelivery services.

My thought bubble: It will likely be at least a decade before fully self-driving cars are capable of operating in all conditions with no human input, suggesting a gradual roll-out of driver assistance features might be the best way to go.

Yes, but: The danger is that as cars gradually get more automated, drivers pay less attention so they're not ready to retake control at critical moments. That's why a sleeping driver was able to cruise for 7 miles on a California highway before police stopped the car.

  • This so-called "handoff issue" between vehicle and human is a critical problem that has yet to be solved and it's why many automakers are skipping semi-autonomous systems altogether and aiming instead for fully self-driving cars.
  • And, all it takes is one unexpected incident to shake a person's confidence in the technology. For instance, I was driving with Cadillac's Super Cruise engaged last year when the car got confused and lurched from side to side when it couldn't find the lane markings as I began to cross a bridge.

Bottom line: The best ways to win consumer trust may be the ones that carry the smallest risk: low-speed neighborhood shuttles or autonomous delivery vehicles.

Go deeper

Updated 39 mins ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.