A study by Edmunds on the buying habits of millennials shows that 2013 was not a particularly good year for young car buyers. Despite making good headway in 2012, 2013 saw those gains practically eroded, as a weak job market and rising home prices helped stymie any growth in market share for automotive consumers aged 18-34.
Tag: generation why
“Too Poor To Drive”. This is the gut level conclusion that’s been propagated in “Generation Why” since January, 2012, long before the theory gained currency in the broader automotive world. In the nearly two years since, the “kids aren’t interested in cars because of technology/the environment/urbanization” meme has held up tenaciously – and it’s not entirely false.
It’s not just oil, water and other precious resources that we’re running out of here on planet earth. Apparently, we’re a little short on automotive nameplates too. If you believe the reports in industry trade pubs, we’ll eventually be overrun by obscure alphanumerics as the number of trademark-ready monikers gradually thins out. Scarcity isn’t the only factor behind it either. Frequently, nameplates get retired, and an all-new version of the previous car is re-introduced with another combination of numbers and letters – just like Nissan is planning to do with the Skyline after 56 years of production.
It is a sound that is familiar to anyone of my generation, the manic buzzsaw howl of a Honda 4-cylinder. Unfairly tarnished in the minds of the public by legions of single-cam D-Series breathing through a potmetal Pep Boys muffler, the Honda 4-cylinder produced a truly moving tune in its highest iterations, the twin cam VTEC B-Series models, as they growled their way to stratospheric redlines. That era is officially over.
Is the American love affair with the automobile over? Total miles driven in the United States peaked in August of 2007, then dropped during the recession and has leveled off since then, though the economy is growing slightly and the population is increasing. According to the Detroit News, the Federal Highway Administration just reported that miles traveled during the first six months of 2013 continued the trend, being down slightly from 2012.
Individual miles traveled actually peaked in 2004, at about 900 miles per driver per month. By mid 2012, that had dropped to 820 miles per month. Per capita automobile use is now about where it was in the late 1990s. Until then, driving mileage generally tracked economic growth, according to U.S. Transportation Department economists Don Pickrell and David Pace (PDF presentation here). Since the late 1990s, though, the when the economy has grown, it has grown more rapidly than car use.
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.
This is the Honda Grom. In the rest of the world, it’s called the MSX125. Squint really hard, and it almost looks like a Ducati Monster. I say almost because this thing is tiny – those are 12 inch wheels, you know. It packs a whopping 125 cc, much like a scooter, but it has a real 4-speed gearbox. It also gets 130 mpg.
My reference point for “old cars” is an old MGB, owned by my friend Paul. Passed down from his father, Paul’s MGB has less than 70,000 original miles and every conceivable part that needed replacing had been swapped out for new during its relatively easy lifetime. When Paul offered me a chance to drive it, it took me all of two seconds to agree on waking up at 6 AM on a weekend just to do so.
Something I’ve long maintained (and that has been backed up by many of the B&B) is that young people still like cars and do care about them. The issue of falling car ownership among young people is largely an economic one. The cost of living is going up while wages are stagnating. Gasoline is expensive. Student debt, smartphones and rent are more important obligations than car payments, insurance and fuel. All of that can be quantified with data.
What hasn’t been so easily demonstrable was that young people still like cars, despite the wishful thinking of many who cheer for the end to the automobile era. Now we finally have some good research that backs up my gut feeling.
Yet another bit of bleak data from Europe relating to new car sales. A popular school of thought holds that young people’s aversion to cars is largely rooted in economic factors. When everyone under 30 is broke, living at home and wallowing in student debt, the last thing on their mind is a car. But the hope is that once things turn around, it will be time for Generation Y to get motoring again. At least in North America. Over in Europe (or certain parts of it, at least) things are much more bleak.