Op -Ed: PopSci Millennial Rant Is Way Off The Mark

popsciWhenever I went to the dentists or doctors office as a kid, I’d bury my nose in the tech articles and futuristic features of Popular Science magainze. It was my favorite article, and to be honest, I actually stole a lot of issues from said dentists and doctors because my parents couldn’t afford a subscription (yes, for awhile we were that poor). But after listening to this 3-minute “rant” from PopSci’s Millennial-aged Projects Editor, I feel compelled, as a fellow Millennial, to point out how wrongheaded this rant really is.

I am sure PopSci’s Dave Mosher is a very smart and very nice guy, and he wouldn’t be the first son of an automotive technician who showed little or no interest in cars. But right away Mosher makes the blanket statement that auto manufacturers don’t make a single car he’d want to own.

Woah. Talk about blanket statements. So, of the many tens of thousands of contemporary and classic car designs that have come out over the past 100 years, there is not a single one Mosher would buy? How can that be?

Before I get to that though, Mosher rattles off the same laundry list of anti-car statistics, like 1 out of every 2 Millennials wanting to live in a walkable neighborhood, and that there were 30% fewer new-car registrations over the past decade among our age group. While these are indisputable facts, if you ask me I’d tell you that has less to do with cars and more to do with the economy.

Let me give you a real-world example. I spend more than $350 every month just repaying my student loans ($40,000 total upon graduation), which is almost $100 more per-month than my girlfriend’s well-equipped Chevy Sonic costs ($270 month with 2.9% financing and $5,000 down). If I had that extra money in my pocket every month, I promise you there’d be some kind of impractical sports car in my driveway alongside the fuel-sipping Sonic. Instead I, like Mosher, am carless, though my decision is based purely on economics. Some people get this.

It’s about priorities, and for many Millennials it isn’t that they don’t want to own a car, it’s that owning a car isn’t a priority, especially when money is tight. See the difference?

(Also I should point out that I do technically own a car, albeit one that is in many pieces on my garage floor, which is a more difficult but also much cheaper way of breaking into the car hobby. But I digress.)

But back to Mosher’s rant about automakers not making cars he wants. Seems impossible, right? But then he makes his very first point, which is to tell automakers to lose the driver’s seat. Here we come to the crux of the issue. Mosher doesn’t want a car at all, he wants a bus, a train, or something that will do all the work for him. No wonder there aren’t any cars Mosher wants to own; the technology he is asking for doesn’t even exist yet. Sure, Google went 500,000 miles with an automated Prius, but that doesn’t mean it is ready for primetime. And even if it is, do you think Google is going to just give that technology away?

A visual representation of Mosher’s perfect car.

Mosher just doesn’t want to drive, period, and he is right when he says he isn’t alone. Yet my Facebook page this summer was swamped with pictures of people my age embarking on road trips all across America, rather than going to more traditional vacation venues like Europe or Cancun. The love of driving is still there, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a 20-year old Volvo or a brand new Aston Martin, road trips are still magical to us Millennials.

Moving on, Mosher begins an environmental rant, saying that glass, metal, and battery chemistry all has “dubious origins” and is somehow less environmentally friendly than whatever materials that make up whatever smartphone/laptop/tablet he uses. Yet cars have some of the highest recycled-content of any item on the planet, while phones, computers, and tablets pile up in filthy toxic mountains in third-world countries. See, it’s a little easier to discard a small electronic than a huge car. Double standard much? Also, Mosher’s suggestion that automakers use closed-loop battery recycling program for electrified vehicles? They already do that. Whoops.

Mosher’s third point as nothing to do with automakers and everything to do with EV charging, which is why it’s the only point I agree with him on. He says that automakers should provide faster, powerful recharging options for electric vehicles, such as how Tesla Motors has its Supercharging networks and battery-swapping locations. I think this setup is indeed the future of EV charging infrastructure, rather than relying on private charging networks local governments, so I’ll tip my hat in deferment to Mosher on point the third.

However, Mosher’s fourth point is that the power for these chargers needs to come for clean, renewable sources. While that is all well and good, building a new power grid and feeding it with clean, renewable energy is not the responsibility or the business of car companies. Like, seriously dude? Do you want Ford to wipe your ass for you too? Again, I get what Mosher is trying to say here, but as big as the auto industry is, the energy industry is many times larger.

But it is the fifth and final point that really, really undermines Mosher’s entire rant, and what compelled me to write this piece. See, he wants cars to be cheap…really cheap! Like smartphone cheap. While his point makes sense in one regard (Millennials have lots of debt and little money) when taken as a whole with the rest of the rant, it really sounds like an unattainable fantasy wishlist.

Mosher says he doesn’t want glitz and glam and doesn’t care about fancy electronics in his dream car…but he DOES want a self-driving electric car that is 100% eco-friendly, fast-charging, and super-affordable. Also, it seems most Millennials do, in fact, want tech-integrated vehicles with a glamorous, sexy image, and are all too conscious of what certain car brands “say” about them. Is it such a shock to find that foriegn luxury brands like BMW and Audi scored the highest among people ages 16 to 34? And while many Millennials say that they want to buy green cars, two-thirds of actual hybrid buyers are over the age of 50.

None of these people will ever buy a new car.

Why? It’s the money, folks. My generation has turned the whole idea of not having money into something cool, because most of us simply don’t have the kind of money to spend that our parents did. Hence the rise of the carless hipster. But give us a little bit of money, and I promise, things will change.

As I said, I am sure Mosher is a nice guy, and is obviously smart enough to hold a job at one of the best-known technology publications on the planet. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the least bit envious, but it still doesn’t seem like he put a whole lot of thought into this rant.

What I took away from this rant is that Mosher will never be a “car guy”, and like most Millennials, he thinks he knows more about a certain subject than he actually does. It just isn’t a priority for him right now, though things can, and do, change. Automakers shouldn’t lose sleep over their inability to sell cars to people like Mosher, who lack either the money or willingness to invest in a vehicle.

Instead, focus on Millennials like me, who love cars, know cars, and can’t wait to be out of debt so we can buy more cars. Focus on making the driving experience easier and more pleasant; give me a reason to splurge on options and extras that enhance the experience. Earn my loyalty, so when I’m ready for my next car, I come back to your brand first.

As for Mosher and his ilk, perhaps one day their priorities will change, as will their expectations of automobiles. For now, I’ll just file this under “Millennials Say The Darndest Things.”

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.