The very first Generation Why column began after GM unveiled two concept cars aimed at millennial buyers, with the subsequent 18 months spent debunking numerous articles claiming that young people have abandoned the automobile in favor of electronic gadgets.
This author has long maintained that such talk was, in its most extreme form, the wishful thinking of people with a not-so-hidden desire to see cars disappear from the urban landscape. At its most benign, it’s simply foolish. Finally, the rest of the world appears to be catching on to the notion that when it comes to falling rates of car ownership, “it’s the economy, stupid.” General Motors just happens to be one of the first to say it publicly.
Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing in Traverse City, Michigan, GM’s Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem said
“I don’t see any evidence that the young people are losing interest in cars,” says Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s longtime chief economist. “It’s really the economics doing what we’re seeing, and not a change in preferences.”
A lot of the talk surrounding the abandonment of cars driven by environmental concerns, a trend towards urbanization and increasing prioritization of technology over mobility seems to be derived from wishful thinking on the part of those who would like to see cars disappear from the road. This may sound like utter crackpot tinfoil-hat talk, but living on the leading edge of “radical” discourse (downtown Toronto, Canada, which prioritized banning plastic shopping bags over reigning in out of control spending, for example) has exposed a growing fringe that sees cars as Public Enemy Number 1. Some of it is environmentally rooted, while others take a more Marxist approach, viewing cars as an individualist, hierarchical form of transportation that is in opposition to collectivist, equitable solutions like public transportation, bicycles (or bike sharing) or good old-fashioned walking. All of these options are great for the small college towns or older metropolises where these people tend to congregate. But for the other 98 percent of the country, they are unfeasible to put it mildly.
These forces have seized on the current situation young people face – burdensome student loans, stagnant wages, increased cost of living, high gas prices and insurance premiums – to advance the “cars are dying” agenda. But I know this is false, and I always have. The overriding conviction that young people’s enthusiasm for cars has been the driving force behind the Generation Why columns. I know this because I see the reactions of my peeps when they ask me to identify the classic car parked on the street, or when they demand a ride in the press car I brought over to someone’s house – whether it’s a matte gray Veloster Turbo or a Grabber Blue Shelby GT500. Young people today view car ownership as similar to home ownership; something not currently attainable, but as a goal for a future time period where one’s financial stability is more assured.
Young people are not a monolithic group either. On one end of the spectrum you have people who might want a car simply to get groceries and get them to work. On the other hand, you have the typical broke enthusiast that we all mock as wanting a world-beating sports car but barely having the funds for a used Miata. But there is one constant among the two disparate groups; both will get their own set of wheels when they can afford them. Right now, it may not be an option. But debts decrease, insurance premiums get lower with age and people earn more over time. And when circumstances are appropriate they will buy cars. Whether it’s a new Corolla or something that costs as much as a used Corolla in upkeep.