I grew up in a small town where getting your driver’s license meant you were one step closer to finally getting your own car, not relying on your parents, and, well… getting the heck out of there.
Needless to say, I was perplexed when kids my age neglected to show interest in driving. What was going through my head looked something like, ?????????????
Turns out, the few kids in my high school that—for whatever reason—chose not to drive certainly aren’t alone. We’re all part of the larger Millennial generation that just really isn’t that excited about cars, or even driving for that matter. And Generation Z (people currently anywhere from 18 to 23 years old) is even worse.
It’s understandable that automotive makers would freak out a little at the fact that younger people just don’t really care about driving—I mean, think about it. When was the last time you saw a car commercial that looked like anyone other than 50-something avid hikers or classy, dark-haired businessmen would be interested in?
The truth is that the people who fit outside of these categories are becoming less and less excited about driving. Here’s why.
Younger People Prefer Urban Living—and That Means Less Need for a Car
It’s true—20-34 year-olds are much more likely than baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) to prefer an urban setting. In fact, statistics show that younger people, especially Generation Z, prefer central urban neighborhoods as opposed to suburban or rural living.
These younger people have less need for a car than ever. The expenses of owning a car alone wouldn’t make sense when they could walk or take public transportation to work, not to mention they’d have to find a place to park the car while both at home and at work.
City-dwellers also have more options than ever when it comes to getting around. Having a car just doesn’t make sense when there are rideshare apps, Uber, Via, Lyft, and let’s not forget, your regular taxi.
Millennials and Gen Z—Like Other Americans—Aren’t Prepared to Make the Jump to EVs
A recent survey by AAA shows that 40 million Americans would consider an electric vehicle (EV) for their next car.
But this number doesn’t seem so high when you consider that there are 225 million drivers in the United States, meaning these potential EV buyers make up about a sixth of all drivers, and even less when you consider there are over 260 million registered vehicles in the US.
Today’s car buyer has a lot of choices—new or used, hybrid or electric, gas or diesel, SUV or hatchback. Younger generations aren’t seeing car charging ports anywhere besides at their local Whole Foods, but they see celebrities on YouTube driving Teslas. Should they buy a Tesla, or does the Ford Ranger their uncle’s getting rid of seem like the best option?
Maybe there is no right choice, and the best part is, they don’t have to choose. It’s easier than ever to exist without a car, and they can bide their time while manufacturers build up their EV fleets and self-driving cars make it on to the scene.
They’re More Eco-Conscious—and Cars Simply Don’t Make the Cut
EVs are certainly marketed for their eco-friendliness, but the truth is that they still use electricity, and the majority of our electricity in the United States still comes from fossil fuels.
Vehicles, even electric ones, still kill animals including endangered butterflies. Diesel fuel is still considered to be carcinogenic. And they still off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making that new car smell invoke more of a feeling of terror that you’re breathing in neurotoxins and carcinogens rather than the smell of luxury.
Millennials and Generation Z aren’t about to spend their life savings on something that they feel will slowly kill them as well as the planet. Eco-conscious members of our generation would rather put their money towards something they believe has less of an impact on the planet—ridesharing, public transportation, or, you know, walking.
Other Factors—Money, Status, and Can Someone Help Me Change My Tire?
Despite their lack of saving savviness, young people know a car is not an investment. Even if it was, it’d be an investment they weren’t eager to make.
I’ve never bought a new car and probably never will. It’s not only that I don’t want a car payment, I just don’t see the point of buying something that will immediately lose over 10 percent of its value as soon as I drive that puppy home.
Millennials also aren’t thrilled about the idea of getting a loan—especially with mounting credit card debt, student debt, and lower wages. Plus, not to mention, climate change?
The truth is that cars are quickly losing the symbol of status they held for baby boomers. And younger generations have far less of an understanding of how cars work, generally speaking, than baby boomers. They aren’t sure how to take care of them and TBH, don’t want to be bothered by it. Now, will someone please help me change my tire?
The Future of Cars for Young People
As self-driving technology evolves, younger people may take advantage of these cars. But still, car sales among younger generations are likely to continue to decline, and automakers will be forced to come up with creative ways to appeal to these auto un-enthusiasts.
As for me, I can’t help but wonder what the future roads will look like as I sit behind the wheel of my 2000 VW Jetta TDI and watch girls who look barely out of their teens run to get into an Uber on Saturday nights. Will self-driving Ubers take over? Am I destined to part with my beloved TDI? Will I get cancer from the diesel fumes? One can only wonder.
But I know this—things are changing, for better or for worse.