Two out of three European drivers want to be able to drive even if self-driving cars become commonplace, according to a major new piece of research launched by Mazda.

The Ipsos research – which was commissioned as part of Mazda’s Drive Together campaign designed to celebrate the joy of driving – polled 11,008 people across key European markets and revealed that an average of 66% of drivers wanted to remain behind the wheel even if self-driving cars become widely available; the figure is as high as 71% in the UK, Germany, Austria and Poland, and only in Italy does it dip below 60% (59%).

Coupled with this, the study also found that only 33% of drivers “welcome the advent of self-driving cars” with the number dropping as low as 25% in France and the Netherlands and reaching only 29% in the UK. Interestingly, there is virtually no evidence of greater support for self-driving cars in younger age groups across Europe – in fact, 18-24 year olds (33%) were no more likely to welcome self-driving cars than 25-34 year olds (36%) and 35-44 year olds (34%).

The research also reveals a significant emotional connection between car and driver as demonstrated by the following statistics: An average of 69% of drivers “hope that future generations will continue to have the option to drive cars” – the figure is as high as 74% in Poland and 70% or higher in the UK, Germany, France and Sweden. In addition, 36% of those who enjoy driving see their car and the act of driving as an “extension of my personality” with the number rising to 56% in Poland and 46% in Italy. And 34% agree driving is in danger of becoming a “forgotten pleasure” – in France, Italy and Poland the figure is 40% or higher.

Mazda Motor Europe’s President and CEO Jeff Guyton said: “As a brand we simply love driving and this research demonstrates very clearly that a huge number of European drivers agree with us – of course, there is a role for self-driving cars but for us, and for many others it seems, there really is nothing quite like the physical pleasure of driving.

“This is why at Mazda we believe in putting the driver at the heart of everything we do and it’s why our current Drive Together campaign focuses on the bond between car and driver. We call this Jinba Ittai which is the Japanese phrase used to describe the perfect harmony between the mounted archer and his horse. It is this human-centric philosophy that underpins our business and helps us create cars that bring the driver and their car closer together.

“If you look at the car industry in general, we believe that many manufacturers are taking a lot of the pure driving pleasure away from drivers. At Mazda we are fighting against this and it’s clear from the research that there is still a huge percentage of drivers who just want to be behind the wheel. In a world that questions the act of driving and devalues the role of the car and the role of the driver through technological changes, we will continue to challenge convention for the love of driving.”

Further findings from the research show that 54% of Europeans have been for a drive “just for fun” – in Sweden it’s as high as 73% and the UK, Netherlands, Poland and Austria all top 60%; an average of 53% say “driving is about more than simply getting from A to B”, climbing to 66% in Poland, whilst 55% think driving with family and/or friends can be a “special experience” with the figure higher than 60% in Spain, Italy, Sweden and Poland.

Comparisons with other activities are also revealing with 37% preferring driving to computer games, 23% choosing driving compared to a drink in a bar or playing sports, with the latter as high as 37% in the UK. In Italy and the UK 9% prefer driving to having sex – in the latter 12% of women would rather hit the road as opposed to 6% of men.

* Technical note: Data from the consumer research conducted by Ipsos MORI is based on a survey conducted among 11,008 adults across 11 European markets, with at least 1,000 interviews in each market. All interviews were conducted between 7th – 22nd September 2017. The consumer survey data is weighted to the known population proportions of each country‘s adults by age, gender, and home region.