Automotive Blog

Generation Y is less interested in having their own car


Up until a few years ago the license to drive a car marked the transition to adulthood and all young people had this dream. Nowadays things are completely different, especially in the advanced markets and car manufacturers have to consider this in their current strategies: they need to attract young customers again.

Once the car license was a symbol of freedom and independence, today it has become a tool.  Entire generations were brought up on an epic song or movie where the future is on four wheels. Maybe Bruce Springsteen could write Thunder Road about a cheap flight? Or George Lucas could turn the protagonists of American Graffiti riding bicycles?

Yet from France to Italy, from the United States to England, the message is clear. When parents suggest giving the license to their child when they reach driving age, the response is the same: "No, thanks." Le Monde has just written about this phenomenon of the decrease of ‘twenties’ who use the car and that the eighteen year olds would rather ask for the latest generation computer, a smartphone or even a fixed gear bike which is always more useful in the city and because Generation Y is more sensitive about pollution. The phenomenon is clearly international: a few years ago the New York Times wrote that in the Big Apple just half of nineteen year olds had a driver's license, compared to two thirds in 1998 – this is the same in London, Berlin, Tokyo, Barcelona, Montreal and Milan.

"A few days ago, during the FIA Mobility Conference in London, we have addressed the disaffection of young people towards the car. Each country has registered a sharp decline due to the crisis and to the change of stereotypes about age. At European level prevails the concept of sharing", explained Angelo Sticchi Damiani, President of the Automobile Club of Italy: he showed data underlining the not encouraging data for Italy: compared to '92, in 2012 the B licenses (the ones needed to drive a car) fell by 39%. In 2014 the driving licenses taken by young people under 21 years old in Italy were 654,335, versus 743,799 registered ten years previously.

"The car today is only a tool to move, but to where? The web takes up most of the time among young people, the social network replaces the go to the bar or to the square", said Marco Aime, an Italian anthropologist. Currently, among many people belonging to Generation Y, the ownership of new technologies has become something more personal and gives more freedom compared to a car. Recent surveys carried out in different large cities around the world, show that many young people under 25 years old are more inclined to take their father's car or to use car sharing rather than having their own car: furthermore costs in the metropolitan cities of running ones’ own car are really high. More and more families in Milan, Paris or London now own only one car, using other mobility schemes when needed.

Using the words of Marshall McLuhan who died some years ago and was one of the most important sociologists and experts of communication on a worldwide level, in an analogic world the car was linked to the ability to move in space and time and was synonymous with freedom. Today most sociologists highlight that this function is stored in information technology: smartphones, tablets or computers do not close the people, on the contrary they are open to the exchange of experiences.

But on the other hand many young people are still interested in the car. According to a recent survey carried out in Europe by Goodyear on Generation Y, with a sample of 2,500 students between 18 and 30 years old, 85% (in Italy it rose to 90%) of them would like to buy a car within a maximum of 10 years.

Effectively car sharing and other mobility schemes are well known and already used by young people, but in reality over 65% of the sample consider the car as an essential service. And young drivers are more careful about the environment according to the Goodyear research, more than 60% of the respondents claim that the car industry should commit itself to producing efficient vehicles, with lower consumptions and be environmentally friendly.

In order to better face the challenge to increase the interest of Generation Y towards the car, the car manufacturers have to play the match in three fields: exploiting better the digital channel (especially social media) to attract young potential customers, changing the physical showrooms into a more digital environment (Generation Y love videogames and virtual tools) and by adding new technological content to the car to connect all the customers’ devices and to offer a more advanced driving experience. Across the world there are a lot of new hi-tech companies which are developing innovative software and products able to create a new relationship with customers, car makers should make more effort to get to know this ‘new’ world.

Written by Luca Montagner

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