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Dude, I Don't Want a Car!

Courtesy of Flickr user Steven Vance

Will Generation Y buck the trend of car ownership?

MPC Research Assistant Kyle Terry authored this post.

In a time of economic uncertainty, record student loan debt, and an environmentally concerned public, the younger generation of consumers is bucking the trend of car-ownership that has been seen historically as a sign of success. According to the car shopping web site Edmunds.com, the share of new cars purchased by those aged 18-34 dropped thirty percent in the last five years. A recent Deloitte study adds that 46 percent of 18-24 year olds would choose internet access over a car.

In concurrence with the Deloitte study, CNN Money’s Steve Hargreaves says that it is the rapid evolution of social media that pushes younger consumers away from owning a car. “The ability to meet and interact with people on the Internet is largely replacing the need to hop in a car and cruise down the strip,” he claims. Hargreaves also points out that later ages for licenses and restrictions on cell phone use all change cars from what they used to represent into what they now take away: freedom.

Many car companies, though, believe that it is the recession and not a cultural shift that has kept younger consumers away from car dealerships. John McFarland, GM’s manager of global strategic marketing, says “I don’t believe that young buyers don’t care about owning a car. We just think nobody truly understands them yet.”  Erich Merkle, a U.S. sales analyst at Ford, believes that “they (Generation Y-ers) will have families, move to the suburbs, and need vehicles. They are going to be around for a long time and they are going to purchase many, many new cars.”

The biggest factor driving this trend, though, may simply be how much easier now than ever it is to live without a car. According to the website of IGO, a car sharing service based here in Chicago with over 20,000 members, car share users drive an average of 500 miles per year. In comparison, the average Chicago vehicle owner logs approximately 10,000 miles per year. In Chicago traffic, this difference adds up to huge monetary savings, large reductions in CO2 emissions (each IGO vehicle replaces as many as 17 private vehicles), and an enormous amount of reduced stress. In addition to the rise in car sharing, Chicago is making it easier to get around in other ways, from adding bus rapid transit to improving bike infrastructure (such as the new protected bike lane on Dearborn). For travel outside the city, more and more people are taking advantage of inter-city rail travel, allowing travelers to avoid high fuel costs and enjoy a more relaxed trip. All of this means that those without cars don’t suffer like they did 20 or even 10 years ago.

The longer that young people go without cars, the easier that it becomes to go without one. While car dealerships may not find this ideal, more and more young people are finding that living a car-free lifestyle in an increasingly car-free city is just fine with them.

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Comments

  1. 1. Susan Roberts from Oak park on December 19, 2012

    Riding the green line with the uncomfortable new el cars makes me want to drive. The pleasure of a comfortable ride, reading a book is gone. Now I an squashed between two other folks, with those walking by hitting my feet or standing over me. Poor planning if one wants to encourage use of public transportation

  2. 2. Tim Grzesiakowski on December 19, 2012

    Susan: What about taking Metra from Oak Park as an option? It's faster than the Green Line, and a monthly pass is cheaper than the CTA Monthly Pass.

  3. 3. Nathanael on December 24, 2012

    Oh, it's a stack of a dozen things. The "culture" of driving is dead, since it's incompatible with cellphones. Driving is inconvenient, while you can do other things riding a train. People are moving to cities. (Still.) Within cities, people are moving closer into the center, where the car is least useful. Gas prices keep going up, and the electric cars are still very expensive. Meanwhile the 99% are getting poorer. It all stacks and it all means less car sales period.

  4. 4. Ben from Utah on December 28, 2012

    John McFarland, GM’s manager of global strategic marketing, says “I don’t believe that young buyers don’t care about owning a car. We just think nobody truly
    understands them yet.”

    Yea and when you do get out of the car and care you will ....!

    Erich Merkle, a U.S. sales analyst at Ford, believes that “they (Generation Y-ers) will have families, move to the suburbs, and need vehicles. They are going to be around for a long time and they are going to purchase many, many new cars.”

    Which none of the research or facts are indicating.

    They simply don't want to hear the truth.

  5. 5. Jay from United States on January 2, 2013

    Exactly, Ben. Those lines stuck out to me most. In a few months I'll move beyond the 18-34 demographic myself, but I'll still be over 7 years blissfully car-free, and I never desire to purchase another motor vehicle again (let alone move to the suburbs - we can, and do, raise families here in our cities well enough, thank you very much).

    And I actually got rid of my last car during my most financially successful year (after which getting rid of that massive liability, I also became even more financially well-off) to-date, so they're wrong on assuming that it's some kind of 'recession-based' thing, too...

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