The Kids Aren't Alright

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
the kids arent alright

For roughly the last decade, we’ve heard the motoring media bemoan Millennials as the generation that snubbed driving. Their inability to find and hold jobs that paid as well as their parents’ did at the same stages of life, combined with elevated costs of living and crippling student debt load, negatively impacted their purchasing power. Still, this generation might be just the tip of an iceberg the industry’s about to careen into.

As it turns out, Generation Z might even be less interested in cars. In addition to facing similar financial constraints as their older peers, most of them aren’t even bothering to get a driver’s license.

According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, Gen Z is substantially less likely to procure the necessary motoring credentials once they’re eligible:

The percentage of teens with a driver’s license has tumbled in the last few decades and more young people are delaying purchasing their first car — if buying one at all, say analysts, generational experts and car industry executives. About a quarter of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2017, a sharp decline from nearly half in 1983, according to an analysis of licensing data by transportation researcher Michael Sivak.

While we feel that the trend of placing broad behavioral labels on various generations is played out and often incorrect — don’t forget analysts had to invent the term “Xennial” to describe individuals bridging the gap between Generation X and Millennials, as they didn’t fit into either camp — following specific generational trends can be useful.

Generation Z, like those born before 1996, have already been accused of being far less like to engage in “adult activities” like driving, drinking, dating, or even having jobs compared to older groups at the same stage of life. Researchers at San Diego State University finalized a series of studies in 2017 that tabulated data from 8.3 million 13- to 19-year-olds between 1976 and 2016 about how they spent their time. Called The Decline in Adult Activities Among U.S. Adolescents, 1976-2016, the study tracks the perceived maturation of young adults since Gen X. The findings suggested that Generation Z has adopted “a slow life strategy.”

Ouch. We know they aren’t trying to make it sound like an insult but… that really sounds like an insult.

For car manufacturers, that means a smaller population interested in driving. While undoubtedly bad for sales, we suppose it could help encourage use of ride-hailing services and autonomous vehicles. But the first of these kids will likely reach adulthood at least a decade before those programs are ready for prime time.

While cost is undoubtedly a factor (the average transaction price for a new vehicle sits around $35,000), additional research claims the internet provides teens with all the escapism they need. Driving over to your friends house for a party is less necessary when everyone can communicate remotely. Helicopter parents who likely had fewer children than their own, and much later in life, are also less likely to go for that. The Wall Street Journal also notes that many public schools had abandoned driver’s education programs, forcing teens (or their parents) to pay out of pocket for training.

The outlet suggested that Generation Z is also more budget-conscious, due to its growing up amid the Great Recession. However, this reasoning feels flawed, as this element is no different for many or most Millennials or Xennials — who were hunting for their first jobs, finishing school, and coping with ludicrously high student loan payments during the financial crisis while much of Gen Z was still in diapers.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of these trends with 100 percent accuracy, but their impact appears much easier to predict. J.D. Power estimates that Gen Zers will purchase about 120,000 fewer new vehicles this year compared to millennials in 2004, when that crowd was just getting into driving. That’s 488,198 vehicles versus 607,329 fifteen years ago. It looks as though Generation Z will be a lot like the Millennials, only more so.

[Image: Irina Papoyan/Shutterstock]

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  • 87 Morgan 87 Morgan on Apr 22, 2019

    A lot of the lack of driving falls squarely on the parents, not the teen. Driving school costs $800 +-, most 15.5 year olds lack that kind of dough in all reality, if mom and dad don't have it either then their you go. Couple that with the grotesque helicoptering that goes on, some of these moms today won't let their kid drive when he is 21 let alone 16. It is really sad. My wife teaches 7th grade and sadly shares the cases of extreme insecurity, hyper tension, anxiety a lot of kids have today and my wife feels that most of it can be traced back to the parents. Let the kids live there own life, including failures. The learn resilience. Now, back to the topic at hand. My 15 year old got his learners permit the day after he finished his required driving with instructor time, took drivers ed (class room, not driving) the month before he was turning 15 so he could get his permit has soon as possible. He drives quite a bit with me as he does a decent job and I feel it is my duty to teach him. We are working on the clutch, unfortunately the vette' really is not not the best car to learn clutch on. A Honda, Subaru, or any other 4 mil Econo car would work better but we are using the resources that we have. I would be careful painting the current generation with broad strokes. We see a lot of hard working, well behaved young me and women trapsing through our house. Yes they have smart phones, but you know what? They are way smarter than we were at 15 or 16, that I assure you. I think we are in good hands.

    • See 4 previous
    • 87 Morgan 87 Morgan on Apr 23, 2019

      @87 Morgan I did not say school shootings are down, prior to 1999 they did not exist. What I did type though was we do not have a safety problem, we have an awareness problem. School shootings aside, our society now is as a safe as it has ever been. I can see though how the remainder of what I typed could be interpreted to the school issue only, my mistake.

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Apr 22, 2019

    I am telling you the truth: Generation Z will be the last generation. We run out of letters. The future is bleak. I see catastrophe coming that will wipe us all off the face of Earth unless we ACT NOW! Spread the news across the land and just do the best you can, all we've got is just the land; take a stand, save the land.

    • See 2 previous
    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Apr 23, 2019

      I prefer A3, A4, A5, A6 and A8. In that order. But how we are going to survive the Climate Change? I see no hope.

  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.
  • Marvin Im a current owner of a 2012 Golf R 2 Door with 5 grand on the odometer . Fun car to drive ! It's my summer cruiser. 2006 GLI with 33,000 . The R can be money pit if service by the dealership. For both cars I deal with Foreign car specialist , non union shop but they know their stuff !!! From what I gather the newer R's 22,23' too many electronic controls on the screen, plus the 12 is the last of the of the trouble free ones and fun to drive no on screen electronics Maze !
  • VoGhost It's very odd to me to see so many commenters reflexively attack an American company like this. Maybe they will be able to find a job with BYD or Vinfast.