Are young people not interested in cars?

 |  By: Steve Johnson In: Trends

BBC News published an article this month called Have we fallen out of love with the car permanently?

It’s that sort of headline that jolts the reader into realising we simply can’t take old values for granted. Agencies and consultancies in the creative, marketing and retail sectors take note.

The BBC studied Department for Transport statistics and noticed:

‘For decades, the richer Britain got, the more people drove. But somewhere in the 1990s things changed. The economy was bouncing along nicely, but our car mileage stayed flat’.

Young people, especially young men, we were driving a lot less, not just in the UK but in lots of countries including the US. The average American now drives fewer miles than in 1997.

In 2012 the RAC Foundation analysed UK stats and discovered that even taking into account the recession our average mileage was being dragged down because young men, company car drivers and Londoners were all driving less.

  • Men in their twenties drive 1,912 miles a year less than they did in the mid-1990s
  • The number of men in their twenties holding a full driving licence dropped by 11% between the mid-1990s and 2005-07
  • Company car mileage dropped by nearly 40% between 1995-97 and 2005-07
  • Driving mileage across London fell by 20% in the decade leading up to the recession

Why? Tax changes for company cars and congestion charges in London have played their part. But there’s more to this than that. Cars used to be hugely aspirational to the young. Think Top Gear, James Bond, Knight Rider and keeping up with the Joneses generally. What fundamental trends are taking place?

It might not be simply a loss of aspiration. Practicality comes into it. It’s the same with homes. Young people don’t drool over houses so much nowadays because many of them simply cannot begin to imagine ever climbing the property ladder, so they rent a place, enjoy the flexibility that brings, and get on with their lives.

Cars are hugely expensive for young people to take lessons for and to insure. And in relative terms, younger people got poorer in the 2000s. There are other trends at work too. Before the internet and smartphones, people drove to visit friends. Social media replaces some of that, plus cities and towns are hyper-congested today. And there’s the Uber phenomenon.

Campaign for Better Transport said: "For at least 50 years, transport policy in the UK has been based on the assumption that car use would carry on growing. If car use has peaked, this will radically change transport policy - and in particular should lead to a complete reassessment of the government's £15bn road-building plans."

This week more research was published that backs all this up. New word of mouth (WOM) research in the US found teenagers between 13-17 are talking far less often – a 27 percent decline – about car brands than teenagers did six years ago.

Car brands have seen a decrease in sales among older millennials. Clearly this generation does not find cars as interesting as they once did.

The report emphasises that the decline in teenage WOM conversations is unique to the automotive industry.

"Teens are among the most talkative demographic, and their engagement in media, technology, and restaurants is skyrocketing. Therefore, we are confident that this downward trend for automotive is real.”

Cars and houses used to be two of the tallest pillars of consumer aspiration in the western world. What sacred cows are next for review?

Agencies and consultancies paid to advise clients on trends have never had a tougher job. It brings to mind a famous line from the TV series The Vampire Diaries.

‘Wait. You need a crystal ball.’

Good luck with that…


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