Generation Y: Smartphones, not cars?

Generation Y: Smartphones, not cars?

Summary: As fewer young drivers find themselves on the roads, is it due to generational "disinterest"?

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TOPICS: Mobility, Tablets
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Once, getting your first car was considered a sign of joining the adult world. Handed the keys and no longer under the dominion of your parents -- at least, that's what you believed in that moment of triumph – a moving vehicle promised freedom, open roads and hours of delight.

But now, why are the rates of young drivers on the road decreasing?

generation y consumer patterns vehicles smartphones mobile technology

The automotive industry has been pondering this question. The Atlantic reports that Toyota USA President Jim Lentz said:

"We have to face the growing reality that today young people don't seem to be as interested in cars as previous generations. Many young people care more about buying the latest smart phone or gaming console than getting their driver's license."

Over the past decade, there has been a shift in consumer demand -- young people are simply not buying cars the way they used to. Instead, a smartphone or tablet seems to be the luxury item of choice.

According to the NY Times, in 1998, 64.4 percent of potential drivers -- up to 19 years old -- had a driver's license. In 2008, only 46.3 percent possessed the legal ability to drive. This percentage has decreased steadily, and the current economic climate is a likely deterrent to the next generation of consumers.

A smartphone may not be able to cart you around, however it is a less expensive investment. But is it truly due to "disinterest" that we simply aren't purchasing cars these days?

A vehicle is a long-term investment. Coupled with rising living costs, college fees and a less-than-stable job market, it's no wonder we're setting our sights a little lower than the latest Coupe.

Culture, the economy and social expectations adapt and change. Your first car is no longer a ritual event; instead, it is something you get when you can afford to, not before, and is based on finances rather than age.

Unfortunately, in places where city infrastructure has been constructed based on the assumption of owning a vehicle -- including many U.S. cities -- adaption to this change in circumstance can be difficult. In the UK, the high expense associated with owning a car, from insurance to petrol, has seen the same shift in consumer patterns.

It is a luxury to own a car, and it is not due to "disinterest" that so many of the younger generation don't possess one. We can't blame an interest in technology for the shift in consumer demand. High living costs and financial feasibility make finding cheaper alternatives necessary.

The parents who may have bought a car for their teenager twenty years ago now settle for a new model of smartphone, and the recent college grad is more concerned about securing a job and trying to move out than buying that car they've been after.

However, sighing over our empty pockets isn't the only factor that might be responsible for changing this consumer pattern. A recent article by Forbes raised an interesting point; technology enables much of the freedom that once cars symbolized.

Communicating with peers, forming relationships, streaming films, making purchases; all of this is now possible through mobile technology. Experiences are no longer restricted depending on our location -- working from home, reading the news, watching a movie, talking with our friends -- it can all be achieved through a small device.

Perhaps this is a rather sobering thought, but it's still a valid one. Generation Y no longer see vehicles as a necessity -- whereas an instant medium of communication and connection might be.

Image credit: Bowen

Topics: Mobility, Tablets

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12 comments
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  • Simple explanation really

    Two things are probably driving this:
    1) Increasingly restrictive licenses for young "adults". The hoops that have to be jumped through to get and use a driver's license certainly make them less useful.
    2) Gas prices. With gas above $3/gallon it would take a significant portion of any wages earned to keep the car fed.

    (You could probably also factor in youth unemployment too.)
    Robert Crocker
    • Allow me add one more:

      3) as Charlie points out, some of the movements you would need a car for have been eliminated by recent technologies. For example, you might need a car to go watch a movie at the cinema but nowadays you have the option of streaming films through your tablet on your sofa.
      davidtayo
  • Car vs phone

    I can assure you I would never date a guy who , as a date, broke out his smart phone to stream a movie. I would laugh at him, tell him to go back to his parents basement, and probably hint that deep down he should embrace his gayness because he is never going to get laid , otherwise.
    TrishaDishaWarEagle
    • Gaia her dreams

      You're too late. Some tree-hugger already took him to bed because she was so thrilled with his commitment to saving the planet.
      Robert Hahn
      • Touche'

        Well bonus..he can learn macrame with her armpit hair..ows 1%, etc etc

        BTW I do not recycle, so, you might want to double down on that on your end..
        TrishaDishaWarEagle
    • You sound like

      a real catch.
      dsa791
      • Smartphone freedom?

        Cars have to get off the road as we are refining sand now and oil is food from pesticides and fertilizer to 1500 miles from field to plate here in the states and industrial agriculture concerns controlling upwards of 80% or more of production in many commodities (and see our established military bases around the planet... we about matching the rest of the world combined in weapons and military force it sure looks like a try for pax americana from here) we are gradually finding Amazon delivers to our doorsteps a ever growing array of "I don't have to leave the house" products from groceries to board games. But Forbes? Really? Cause I don't think a smartphone can browse the freedom of a road trip to nowhere for no reason... Suri is a bit cold when it comes to relationships and texting lacks so much in the way of non-verbal communication that friends and family often read their own moods into the texts "tone". Most subjects of any import I wait to discuss face to face NOT over the phone (recorded by the way)... and the news can now be redacted or amended with a few keystrokes as more and more papers of record go off record and onto the net. I've watched stories metamorph and vanish virtually already. Who wrote the first MSDOS? Well there was a bit of an effort to change the history there the last couple of years as a minor example. Movies on a tiny screen? While I'm working from home huh? And a smartphone allows me to talk to my friends? Wow! And it spies on you too boot. Sweet freedom.
        Jay Carlisle
      • North Alabama bleeds through

        Gump begats Gump with a bit of recessive cousin kissin and a athletic program that can't seem to score any hardware without a big NCAA asterisk attached due to violations and rags tree huggers as Toomer topples. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m6Sw26gUQo
        Jay Carlisle
  • Generation Y: Smartphones, not cars?

    The other reason could be that driving can be frustrating and time consuming. Spending time driving 20 miles each way in traffic could be better spent doing other things. Train systems FTW!
    Loverock Davidson-
  • "Prestigious" cars are no longer prestigious

    Traditionally prestigious cars no longer hold the same type of sway among young people as they used to. It's probably because we have been raised to appreciate automotive qualities such as fuel efficiency and safety, which are not exactly common traits in the muscle cars and SUV's our parents purchased in order to show off their status in society. We brag through network speeds and powerful apps, not through horsepower and the roar of the engine. The Samsung SIII is our '70 Camaro.
    fidlerja1
  • Parents these days...

    Parents these days, in my observation, are more likely to drive their kids around whenever they need it. When I was a kid, it was either walk or take the bus. I looked forward to my license and first car like nothing else.
    kstap
  • Necessity (or lack thereof) has much to do with it

    Maybe some people don't own a car because they don't really need to own one. If you live within walking distance of pretty much everywhere you would want/need to go, having a regular car would be an unnecessary expense (or, for that matter, several unnecessary expenses). If you belong to some sort of car-sharing group, you can always "rent" a car as needed.
    Third of Five