Forbes: The Reasons Why Millennial's Aren't As Car Crazed As Baby Boomers, And How Self-Driving Cars Fit In
Special to The Auto Channel
From Dr. Lance Eliot
It seems that in comparison to the Baby Boomers and Gen X, the latest up-and-coming generations are less car crazed and thus creating great difficulties and consternation for those that are making automobiles.
Purchases of cars by the younger set are dropping precipitously. Survey after survey shows that the latest generations don’t put car ownership particularly high on their list of things to do.
Perhaps worse too is that those potential drivers aren’t even pursuing getting driver’s licenses as earnestly as prior generations, meaning that the pipeline of drivers that would want to buy a car is not flowing in the same guaranteed manner as in the past.
Chatting with Millennials and Gen Z often reveals that they actually eschew driving. If they can avoid having to drive a car, they will happily and eagerly find a means around doing so.
You can contrast this viewpoint to those of us from the prior generations.
We grew-up believing that having and owning a car was a crucial part of life, something that was a must-do. Getting a driver’s license was a rite-of-passage, showcasing that you were progressing from being a kid to becoming an adult.
Being able to legally sit behind the steering wheel was a source of pride. You were in-charge of a multi-ton beast, demonstrating your strength and virility (for both men and woman!). The car gave you street cred among your late-teens peers. It was also a source of freedom, being able to escape from the overshadowing heavy-handed control of your parents and stood as a path to your rightful independence.
You can toss out most of those now classic but outdated tropes.
There has been a sea-shift emerging about the cultural norms and attitudes toward cars and the act of driving.
No sense in complaining about it, and instead might as well get prepared. As they say, it is the new norm.
Let’s unpack why this is happening and also consider what impact the advent of self-driving driverless cars might have on this overarching trend.
The Mindset Change About Cars
I am often asked whether there is one specific reason that the latest generations are not avidly courting cars and driving.
I’d say that it is an intertwined set of whys and wherefores, which at a macro-level perspective you could potentially suggest is “the reason,” but I don’t buy into the notion that there is really a single thread that is the sole instigator for what is happening.
I’ll rattle off the myriad of overlapping aspects, all of which are juicing each other and causing an upheaval of sorts:
• Less enamored of making large capital purchases. The latest gens are often saddled with student debt and aren’t interested in digging into the debt abyss any further. Even if they have the dough, they saw what happened in the most recent recession and are skittish about letting their savings go toward a thing called a car (they know that the asset will drop in value the moment they drive it off-the-lot).
• Ridesharing provides a viable alternative. The seemingly ubiquitous availability of ridesharing, which perhaps is more appropriately coined as ride-hailing (since there’s not that much sharing of rides taking place per se), makes life easy for you if you don’t perchance own a car. Your mobile app brings a car right to your doorstep.
• Don’t want worries about car glitches and burdens. Think about the headaches that owning a car can cause. Where do you park your car and how much will that cost you? You need to get car insurance, yuk. You need to figure out what to do if the car goes awry, and deal with the bewildering morass of auto repair options. A car equates to one enormous bag of hassles, and so it makes sense to elude it.
• Driving is not fun, it’s a chore. Perhaps one of the biggest differences seems to be that the recent generations perceive driving as a chore, something you do to get from point A to point B. Prior generations were led to believe that driving was fun and a form of artistic expression. The latest drivers are more down-to-earth and see driving as perfunctory.
• FOMO strikes the car equation. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) has taken root in the latest generations. This translates into meaning that whatever you are doing now, it might be the wrong thing to do, since you are missing out on something better that you ought to be doing. Consider how FOMO applies to buying a car. You might buy a car that at the moment was the most exciting model and choice, and yet two months later something cooler comes along. Darn it, you missed out, and thus it is better to not get “stuck” making a choice at all.
• Getting a car is ugly and brutal. Everyone knows via movies and TV that walking onto a car dealership lot is akin to entering into a den of snakes and scary horrors (that’s the enduring image being repeatedly conveyed, true or not as to what actually transpires). You’ll get taken advantage of. You’ll be overwhelmed with arcane paperwork. This is why there are now emerging online means to buy a car and try to make the process less arduous and frightening, including even having the car delivered to you, rather than having to go to it.
• Car is a mystery of mechanical mechanisms. It seems that the prior generations are passing along less and less about how to go under-the-hood of a car, eventually leading to the latest generations not knowing how a car works. In fact, the latest gen doesn’t care how it works, and mainly focuses on the output it can produce. This means that you become distant from any emotional or personal attachment to a car, since there’s no sense of workmanship that you changed the oil or put on a spare tire. Those tasks are done by someone else for you, thankfully, and it just magically is undertaken by them.
• Don’t like the hard sell. In the past, automobiles were often marketed and sold with the same selling fervor reserved for selling swamp land. The latest gen knows about this. The latest gen is a cynical bunch that doesn’t believe wild claims, or at least gets turned-off when they smell it happening. Pundits have said that the latest gen prefers authenticity. You’ve likely noticed that the car ads are playing that angle now and been less over-the-top about their vehicles than they used to be (well, some of the time).
• Traffic is terrible and so driving is exasperating. There was a day once that you could drive your car with the windows rolled down and enjoy the wind and push the pedal to the metal. More cars came along. Roads haven’t changed much. Today’s driver is going to find themselves in traffic, stuck in snarls and moving at a snail’s pace. Being a driver is worse than doing a chore, it is like having your teeth pulled. The latest gen figures outsource the driving to those that are willing to endure it.
• Ecological and ecosystem awareness. The latest gen is aware that gasoline powered cars are emitting harmful emissions, and though they also know that it is much improved in comparison to prior years, nonetheless it is still a bad thing. They are interested in EV’s as an ecological matter, but also unsure about EV’s since it hasn’t spread fully and presents other difficulties like charging the EV and what do on longer drives. So, they decidedly don’t want to get a polluting car, and nor are they willing to commit just yet to the EV’s.
• No bragging rights, maybe stigma instead. There was a time that you could brag that you got a driver’s license and could drive a car. You would brag that you drove your car to the mountains, or to the desert, or to the beach, or on vacation, and so on. Everybody has a driver’s license now. Everybody can drive to those places if they want to do so. There isn’t any bragging now, and in fact it could be a kind of stigma, such as why did you drive that distance when you’ve got this-or-that here, what a waste.
• And there’s more. I could list additional points, but it hopefully is apparent that shifting aspects of our society and culture have changed the dynamics about owning a car and driving a car.
Okay, I’ve provided you with a taste of the underlying elements that are driving the latest generations away from driving, plus why they are shunning owning a car.
For those of you that might say that you know a latest gen and the person doesn’t fit to all of those causes and concerns, well, yes, I wasn’t suggesting that every person fits to everyone of those points. Generally, I’m saying that those points are significant contributors and in their respective parts and pieces pretty much fits to the latest gen on a predominant basis (individual exceptions allowed).
What Happens With The Advent Of Driverless Cars
The aforementioned points are contextually dealing with conventional cars and everyday commonplace driving.
The million-dollar question is how things will change once we have self-driving driverless cars.
I’m referring to autonomous cars that are driven by an AI system and there is no human driver needed. Indeed, some argue that human drivers won’t be able to drive a car, even if they want to do so, since cars will no longer have any human accessible driving controls (this is debatable).
If you are wondering whether the latest gen is maybe holding out until driverless cars appear, which thusly would be another explanation for their hesitancy of buying a car today, along with why they don’t seem to care as much about being able to drive, I’d say that it is somewhat farfetched to make such a claim, today.
I don’t think it is much of a factor right now, but I would fervently argue that once true self-driving cars begin to appear and have some prevalence, you can certainly expect the latest gen will likely take into account that the “movement” has begun.
Would you go out and buy a conventional car or even a semi-autonomous car, if you knew for sure that fully autonomous cars were now ready and able to be obtained?
Don’t think you would.
Also, if driverless cars were seen as becoming available fast enough, would you go to the trouble to get a driver’s license, unless or only as a form of federally approved form of ID?
Probably you’d get it just for the ID purposes.
This then takes us to another controversial topic, namely whether the latest gen will no longer buy a car at all, and instead rely completely on ride-hailing or ridesharing via the use of autonomous cars.
Many pundits are predicting that individual ownership of cars is going to disappear like an extinct dinosaur. The view is that driverless cars will be owned by large companies, either the automakers themselves or ridesharing firms or today’s car rental firms (transformed) or other conglomerates will get into the game.
These owners will have fleets of driverless cars. They will position their autonomous cars in places to make as much money as possible, doing so one ride at a time. It could get ugly, though, since you might have clogs of driverless cars, all vying to get your ridership, flowing inside cities and neighborhoods, trolling and roaming to find the next paying passenger.
My view is somewhat contrarian about the ownership question.
I’ve stated that it seems to me that there is a grand opportunity for individuals to own a car in a manner that they had not done previously. Right now, you own a car and it sits around 95% of the time doing nothing, other than waiting for you to use it. That’s quite a costly asset to own.
In the future, you buy a driverless car and when you are at work or sleeping at home during the evening, you put it onto a ridesharing or ride-hailing network. It goes off to make you money when you don’t need it, and you bring it back to you when you want it to drive you around (this could include barter trading with other such driverless car owners).
I anticipate a large cottage industry of individual owners that are hopeful of augmenting their existing pay by using their driveress car.
This also explains the usual retort that I get on this topic that the average person won’t be able to afford a driverless car, which even though no one yet knows what they will cost, whatever the cost might be will now become an investment. Buying a car today is not really an investment, most of the time, while a driverless car is a type of asset that you can purchase and anticipate will bring in revenue. Imagine that the type of loan you would get is different than today, since it’s not just the car, it’s also the revenue stream that the car will presumably derive.
I believe that the genie is out of the bottle in terms of getting the latest generations to somehow turn back the clock and embrace the joys of driving. Plus, once true driverless cars emerge, they aren’t going to be driving anyway (presumably).
The latest gen is going to continue to find ways to avoid driving when they can afford to do so. They will likewise tend to avoid owning a car.
That being said, if my prediction about the revenue potential from owning a driverless car makes sense, you can bet that the latest gen is not going to sit on the sidelines while others are making money off of getting a driverless car.
If nothing else, FOMO will move them in the direction of seeking to own a car, though primarily for its cash generating advantages.
What I hope to not see is trickery about getting those desperate to find a second income into signing up for faux driverless cars on a vacuous promise of it, akin to perhaps buying a timeshare that someone shows pretty brochures and yet the condos aren’t built, the land isn’t bought up, and the matter is more of a dream than it is yet a reality.
Dr. Lance Eliot