Generation Why: Finally, Some Hard Data Shows That Young People Do Care About Cars

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

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.

A new study by Edmunds shows that not only are more Millennials buying new cars, but they aren’t opting for the usual old boring appliances either. Using data from Polk, Edmunds discovered that the number of 18-34 year-old buyers is rebounding – not quite to pre-recession levels, but improving steadily from 2011 to 2012. And it looks to be holding steady this year.

According to the Edmunds study, Millennial buyers tend to buy a greater share of luxury and sporty cars as well – segments that are traditionally the domain of older buyers with disposable income that can be spent on a car. This is another notion that has long suffered from an absence of hard data, but I can tell you that the rationale behind this is simple; if we’re going to shell out for a car, it’s going to be something that we really want, like a Scion tC ( Mark Rechtin wrote an equally insightful rebuttal to the latest study that posits that Generation Y are eager to reject cars and home ownership for an urban lifestyle of renting and Brooklyn Bohemianism. Rechtin delicately puts forward what we all know in the back of our minds; one day, we will turn into our parents and trade in the chic loft in a gentrified neighborhood for new digs that are more suitable for raising a family. These will likely be in the suburbs, and will necessitate a car.

But before that, they will grow up

Young people do care about cars. They just haven’t had to. Either unemployed or underemployed, many Gen Y college grads have moved back home with their helicopter parents who have resumed their role as their childrens’ personal taxi services. Gen Ys can’t afford cars, but they can afford iPhones.

If Edmunds is correct, then this is all set to change. The economy will recovery, good jobs will return for America’s youth and the dream of a middle class life will start to become a more realistic goal for the 70 million young people who constantly uncertain about their future. I certainly hope it happens. The alternative is extremely ugly.

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  • Carlisimo Carlisimo on May 30, 2013

    Passion for cars always exists - the difference is that cost pressures and environmental awareness means that we don't want to NEED a car. Driving to work is like being in an expensive jail. Having a car available for other purposes is freedom. In the end most of us will need a car though, because it's hard to afford a decent home in a good city. But you don't need a decent home until you start a family, and debt and living with parents is pushing that out into our thirties.

  • Occam Occam on Jul 02, 2013

    I suppose I'm technically Gen Y (31, born in 1981). My fiance is Gen X (34, born in 1978). Together we make well over $100K/year, but we don't spend a lot on cars. I have a paid off Scion tC, she has a paid off Versa. I've traded in too many cars in the past: I made stupid choices and was on my 3rd new car by age 25 (not to mention married before), but at this point, we have zero debt between the two of us. Now? I can have fun in my paid off stick shift tC, or on my bought-outright Triumph Bonneville. She couldn't care less about cars as long as they hold stuff from craft shows and antique malls. We'd both rather spend the money on experiences than depreciating transportation. Every now and then, I see something that looks like fun (BMW 3-series coupe, Challenger, Mustang, for example) but I'd rather not deal with a $500+ monthly payment after busting my tail to pay off my tC in two years. I also ask myself, "Would I rather have a V8 in the driveway but no stamps in my passport?" SOOO many people get strung out on car loans, but never take a vacation; no thank you!

  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.
  • Jeff S Got to give credit to Chrysler for putting the 300 as a rear wheel drive back on the market. This will be a future classic.