The Carless Generation

Jim Sutherland
by Jim Sutherland

There is always going to be a generation gap. The term “generation gap” was coined in the 60s when it became evident that Baby Boomers had developed a whole new set of rules for themselves that put a significant chasm between them and their parents in terms of interests and values. Generation gaps will always define new generations and every generation will march to the beat of their own drum. For me, the gap got Grand Canyon wide when I read the LA Times piece by Martin Zimmerman that cited a J D Power study which indicated that Generation Y has less interest in cars. As a lifelong car guy who built an entire social world around cars I would have to ask; “Generation why?”

J D Power monitored Internet traffic conversations on Autoblog, Twitter and Facebook for several months earlier this year and came to the conclusion that teens and early 20-something “careerists” had less interest in our four-wheeled friends than previous generations. I understand the social websites but why would anybody get on a car website to talk about something in which they apparently have no interest?

The malady has even gotten a new name based upon the drop in car ownership in Japan. Social scientists in desperate need of a new buzzword fix call it “demotorization”. So young “careerists” have decided to “demotorize”. I have “demotorized” in the past under a different plan. My plan was to drive the hell out of a badly neglected car until a piston tried to bust its way out of its cylinder jail. Most of that decision to “demotorize” was in the hands of my car. Gen Y has changed the definition to include a conscious and apparently rational decision not to own a car.

I should be happy that a new generation has decided not to become the newest members of the gridlock gang, but mostly I am puzzled by the news. The study indicated that Gen Y was a comfortable member of a new cyber society that “perceive less of a need to physically congregate, and less of a need for a mode of transportation”. Personally the need to physically congregate was one of the driving forces behind my first car.

What has changed the game for Gen Y? I realize that the Internet has a very generous supply of porn and that would definitely have kept me hunkered down in my parents’ basement for a sizeable chunk of my high school years. But eventually I would have ventured into a real flesh and blood world filled with real women and real possibilities. None of that would have happened in my parents’ house stranded without any wheels.

There were always a couple of great reasons to own a car from day one for any guy ever since the first horseless carriage- to see the world and meet women in no particular order. The spirit of adventure has always been the major reason for a set of car keys until marriage, parenthood and soccer suck the fun out of cars and replace fun with practicality. Then that beautiful symbiotic threesome relationship between cars, freedom and youth gets vaporized by parental responsibility and minivan ownership.

A car is the first real taste of independence in a kid’s life. Take away a car and the emotional umbilical cord survives longer than it should and the danger of a forty seven year old basement dweller living with his aging parents becomes a real possibility. This is the ugly reality of a generation with no plan to cross an important threshold which includes interaction with the real world.

Don’t get me wrong, the Internet highway is a great place to spend some time. So is a real highway, especially if it gets some kid behind a real steering wheel on a real road to physically congregate with eligible young females in the real world. That should not be the road less traveled when you’re 19 years old with a raging case of hormones and no amount of free porn will change that reality even if you can type real fast with one hand.

Sure a kid can google earth and visit nearly every square inch of the planet through his Apple or I-pod but that is hardly a multi-dimensional experience filled with any tactile sensation beyond the touch of a keypad.

I still believe Dinah Shore when she suggested that we see the USA in our Chevrolet even if a lot of people choose other car brands in 2009. The important thing is that cars are part of a real world experience and the call of the road is also still the call of the wild, complete with flat tires and other road side adventures.

Most of us need a car for very practical reasons in our lives. When we were younger we needed a car for less practical reasons but for a no less important reason: We needed to take a ride into life’s experiences and a steering wheel got us there quicker than a keyboard. We still need that kind of lesson.

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  • Geeber Geeber on Oct 27, 2009
    carlos.negros: “In knowledge-economy areas such as Boston, MA; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco, CA, more than 40 percent of adults hold a bachelor’s degree.” That says nothing about job growth or economic growth. It only proves that these cities ALREADY have a high concentration of people with college degress, which I did not dispute. What you are saying is similar to the defense that GM fanboys have offered over the past few years: "GM sells more vehicles than anybody else, so they must be in good shape!" Never mind the trends in market share and sales, the cost disadvantages and the cultural problems that prevented GM from making the best use of its resources. Nowhere does what you have posted prove incorrect the key facts in my previous post. carlos.negros: “Obama carried white college graduates. Moreover, his margins were quite spectacular in a number of these states. He carried white college graduates by 11 points in California, 10 points in Delaware, 30 points in Hawaii, 24 points in Maine, 26 points in Massachusetts, 13 points in Minnesota, 18 points in New Hampshire, 15 points in New York, 28 points in Oregon, 49 points in Vermont, 26 points in Washington and 12 points in Wisconsin.” You've switched tracks. Originally you said that young people are more likely to "self identify" as Democratic. This above post only shows that they voted for one particular candidate in a recent election. People who identify themselves as independents usually end up voting for one of the two mainstream candidates in the final election. Those choices are basically "Republican" and "Democrat." (Plus, in many states, to vote in the primary, they had to register with a particular party, as people are only allowed to vote for the candidates of their own party. This encouraged many people to switch party registration. This is what happened in Pennsylvania.) Obama ran the better campaign in 2008, so he got the majority of votes among younger people, who are less likely to identify with either major party. Here is an article from The Wall Street Journal on party registration trends since the 2008 election: In the months since Barack Obama won the presidency, independent voters have rocketed to their highest number on record. Meanwhile, the ranks of Republicans and Democrats have thinned dramatically. Independents hold the balance of power in the Obama era. That’s the conclusion of a recent, 165-page Pew Research Center survey that shows independent voters climbed to 39% from 30% of the electorate in the five months following the 2008 election. During that same time, Democratic identification fell to 33% from 39%, while Republicans fell four points to 22% — their lowest since post-Watergate. This is evidence that President Obama’s election does not represent a liberal ideological mandate, as House Democrats have claimed. It also shows continued rejection of the Republican brand. On virtually every policy issue, independents are situated between increasingly polarized Democrats and Republicans. They more accurately reflect centrist national attitudes than the 11% of Americans who describe themselves as liberal Democrats or the 15% who call themselves conservative Republicans. Hardly seems like a major realignment in favor of the Democrats is in the making (although it hardly seems like the Republicans are in line for a resurgence, either). carlos.negros: “If you’re about graduate and are worried about finding a job in an overcrowded market, moving to a less-popular city may mean your skills are in higher demand. But for those who want to follow their fellow classmates, here are the top 10 cities this spring among college students looking to find a job: 1. New York, NY 2. Washington, D.C. 3. Los Angeles, CA 4. Boston, MA 5. San Francisco, CA 6. Chicago, IL 7. Denver, CO 8. Seattle, WA 9. Atlanta, GA 10. San Diego, CA” Nowhere does this prove incorrect what I posted about where job growth has been occurring over the past decade. This link does say that people want to go to certain doesn't prove that they are successful in their job search. Nor does it prove that all of those cities are more successful at generating new jobs for those young people. And please note that "wanting to go to a city" and actually doing it are also two different things. Many people with college degrees go to New York City and end up working as a sales clerk at Macy's or a waiter instead of working as an accountant or public relations executive. Of course, that isn't helping their standard of living. Now, I have no doubt that living in New York City is more glamorous than living, in, say, a suburb of Kansas City or Dallas, let alone Harrisburg. And working as a waiter or other low-responsbility job and spending nights hanging out at clubs and hitting on members of the opposite (or same) sex seems more exiciting that doing yardwork, balancing a checkbook or going to bed early because there is an early morning meeting. Of course, that lifestyle doesn't look as appealing at 35 as it did at 25, and seems positively pathetic by 45. But that doesn't prove that young people will still want to live like that when they are 35 or 40. Plus, many people are happy to trade glamour for more tangible assets like a house, a car, good schools and quiet neighborhoods. They just aren't the subjects of an HBO series, so they aren't as visible. carlos.negros: Geeber, you were wrong before the election, and you are wrong again. Keep trying. You must be thinking of some other poster. I never said that Obama was destined to lose the 2008 election. I have pointed out that, in many cases, the emporer has little or no clothing, and he has continued many Bush policies since he assumed the Oval Office. His appointees have hardly been scandal-free (tax-dodging seems to be a particular problem, which is interesting considering that they are part of the the party that usually advocates higher taxes). Judging the criticism President Obama has received from some on the left on certain subjects, that view is hardly incorrect.
  • Martin Albright Martin Albright on Oct 27, 2009
    And for good measure, we gutted traditional urban centres with a double-whammy of zoning laws and infrastructure rot. What "gutted" the inner cities was a combination of the growing affluence of post-WWII America in the 50's and desegregation and white flight to the suburbs in the 60's and 70's. That's why many Southern cities, in particular (I'm thinking of Charlotte, NC, where I lived from 1996 - 98) have an office filled "urban core", a decaying and poverty ridden "inner ring" and are surrounded by an "outer ring" of affluent suburbs. As the wealthier people move out of the city, they take the tax base with them. This, of course, was also helped out by the availability of cheap gasoline that made commuting from the outer ring into the urban core a sensible thing to do.
  • Ronin The very asking of the question "Are Plug-In Hybrids the Future?" is an interesting one. Because just 2 or 3 years ago we'd be asking- no, asserting- that E cars are the future. We're no longer asking that question.
  • Peter Benn There apparently were some K-code 4-dr sedan Fairlanes. Collectible Automobile Apr 2024 has found a '63 500 with HD 3/spd.
  • Mia Hey there!I recently stumbled upon the Crack Eraser DIY Windshield Repair Kit (check it out here: and decided to give it a shot on a small chip in my windshield. I have to say, it worked like a charm! Super easy to use, and it saved me a trip to the professionals. If you're dealing with a similar issue, this kit is definitely worth considering. 😊
  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.