Before I was into cars, I was really into video games. I mean like, really into video games. I recently embarked on a one-year embargo of video games, so I could focus more attention on my much-neglected fleet of project cars. Since turning 16, cars have been my prime obsession, and the more I learn about the auto industry, the more fascinated and enthralled I become with cars of all shapes and sizes. Video games? Just not as interesting as they used to be.
Apparently, I’m the exception, rather than the rule (though I already knew that). MSNBC is apparently just figuring out that my generation, the so-called “Millenials” or “Generation Y”, are more interested in gadgets than automobiles. Is that a good thing?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Though not if you’re a car manufacturer.
The article on MSNBC talks about how teens and twenty-somethings are more focused on gadgets that let them live their lives virtually. Like many other people my age, I work from home, so you can scratch out commuting right there. Many students take classes online as well, and social networking sites like Facebook let friends stay in touch from their computer screen. My how times have changed.
Driving used to be a right of passage, but fewer people of all ages are buying new cars, and those that do hold on to their cars much longer. Just 27% of new car sales are to 21-35 year olds, down from a high of 38% in 1985. Only 31% of 16 year-olds had their license in 2008, compared to 1994 when 42% of 16 year-olds were driving. Young people just aren’t all that concerned with cars. They’d rather have the latest iPhone instead.
Then there are people who drive only because they have to, because public transportation doesn’t offer a viable alternative, and these are the people that are really being let down. I hear a lot of arguments against public transportation, yet it is hard to argue that as people continue to downsize their life, the car is increasingly pushed out of their lives altogether. Of course, automakers aren’t too happy with any of this, trying to appeal to younger people by stuffing their cars full of gadgets and doo-dads like the SYNC, MP3 players, and even the Internet. Does that really enhance the driving experience?
I don’t want cars to disappear because I love driving. For me, it really does epitomize every cliche about freedom, the open road, and being the driving force of one’s own destiny.Cars are my Zen. Some people have meditation, others have martial arts. For me, turning a wrench and getting behind the wheel for an extend cruise is all the meditation I need.
But even I have to admit that my generation is too “distracted” for car ownership. Too many of them are talking on cellphones instead of paying attention to the road. 80% of drivers can’t (or won’t) change their own oil. Car ownership is more complicated that buying an iPad, and to be frank, I don’t think a lot of Generation Y has the attention span to care about cars the way people used to. We’re still out there, and we always will be, but a big generational shift away from cars and towards practical transportation seems to be happening. That’s great for the environment, but if automakers want to survive they have to adapt to the times. Or maybe just get in to the public transportation racket.
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to Hemis. You can follow his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout.