The car makers in Detroit and Japan and elsewhere are very concerned.
It seems that teenagers of today (I have learned that the media has tagged the group born in the 1990s as “Millennials”) no longer have the hunger to get their license and drive a car.
What? Are you kidding me?
For me as a teen, it was a rite of passage and freedom to get your license and your first wheels. All of my friends were waiting at the DMV office on their birthday and already dreaming of what type of car they wanted to drive. But the numbers don’t lie: a recent University of Michigan study found that in 1983 about 87 percent of 19-year-olds and 69 percent of 17-year-olds had a driver’s license. Those numbers had dropped to about 70 percent and 46 percent, respectively, by 2010.
You can see why auto manufacturers are concerned.
The obvious question is why is this happening? Most experts attribute the reason to the Internet. The decrease in driver licensing is consistent with the increase in Internet usage. The theory is that virtual contact through the Internet using i-phones and/or computers has greatly reduced the need for actual contact such as firing up the family sedan and going over to see your friends face to face.
Toyota USA President Jim Lentz was quoted as saying, “Many young people care more about buying the latest smart phone or gaming console than getting their driver’s license.”
Perhaps it’s more of an issue with safety in that parents know their kids are probably texting or talking on the phone while driving and simply don’t want them doing both at the same time. It could be a geographical problem as I can see where kids growing up in the city or highly populated suburbs would be more apt to walk or use public transportation to get where they want to go. On the other hand, kids growing up in rural areas have no choice but to learn how to drive a car to go anywhere and we all know that the population in rural areas has been dropping in this country for a long time.
A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that surveys have found that 88 percent of Millennials want to live in an urban environment. The answer to this question could also be economic as cars and insurance for them is not cheap, nor is the gas to run them. And of course everyone knows the country has been in a recessionary period since 2008.
No matter the reason, the car companies are definitely aware of what’s going on. GM recently appointed a 31-year-old marketing executive to be its “youth emissary” and in essence try to turn the cars of today into attractive toys that can compete with the smart phones and so on. GM is supposedly also coming out with new colors on their cars such as “techno pink,” “lemonade” and “denim” aimed at the youthful market.
But be careful in marketing to the so-called Millennial group, as Toyota discovered with its Scion brand. Toyota decided to market the smallish, modern-looking Scion at indie-rock concerts, and sales fell 71 percent. The reason? Toyota found that the Scion buyers were actually baby boomers who liked the car’s youthful vibe and appearance!
So, is the future of our collector car hobby in trouble in the future? I guess only time will tell.
Bill Deaton of Fort Mill is the owner of B&D Business Services in Rock Hill and also a classic car enthusiast.