For some time there has been talk of the automobile becoming less relevant to young Americans. Studies have concluded that they are less enthusiastic about driving, that when they do drive they drive less than previous generations, and that they prize their smartphones and computers over car ownership. Now comes a study from MTV that purports to refute these findings.
Not too long ago, we reported on an AdAge.com story that contained some worrying driver’s license data: In 1978, 50 percent of 16-year-olds and 75 percent of 17-year-olds had driver’s licenses. By 2008 those percentages dropped to 31 and49 respectively. The numbers for 18- and 19-year-olds are equally disquieting.
Not only are new drivers fewer in number, they are also traveling fewer miles. On average, people between the ages of 16 and 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001. That’s the finding of a 2013 study by the U.S. Prig Educational Fund. A contemporaneous article in the Los Angeles Times reported that drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 accounted for 2 percent of new-car sales in 2012, down from 3.4 percent in 1985.
In seeming contradiction of the foregoing, the just-released “Millennials Have Drive” research study conducted by MTV (millennials defined as those between the ages of 18 and 34) claims to uncover an increase in young people’s passion for cars and car ownership. Specifically, it sets out to debunk five myths about young people and the auto industry.
• Myth #1: Millennials don’t drive — The MTV study finds that 80 percent get around by car, and that, on average, they drive more self-reported miles per month than any other generation. The study does not reveal how the number of miles they travel has increased or decreased compared to the past.
• Myth #2: Millennials are disinterested in getting a driver’s license — The study points to more recent restrictions on obtaining driver’s licenses imposed by state laws as the cause for the drop in the number of young people getting licensed. It does not address the actual drop in numbers.
• Myth #3: Millennials don’t like cars — More millennials (70 percent) than Boomers (58 percent) and Gen Xers (66 percent) enjoy driving, the study finds. And 75 percent of these young people claim they could not live without their current car.
• Myth #4: Millennials don’t buy cars — A third of millennials plan on purchasing or leasing a new car in the next six months, while 80 percent view cars as the one big-ticket item people their age buy.
• Myth #5: Millennials love their phones more than cars — The study finds that millennials see both their cars and their phones as necessities to social connection, with 92 percent agreeing that a smartphone does not replace the need for a car.
For the most part, MTV’s study seems to be more about attitude and intent than action. How to prod millennials into action? One answer may lie in Myth #5. Combining car and phone removes the either/or dynamic. And this is exactly what automobile manufacturers are doing. As seen at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and reported by Bloomberg Businessweek (January 12), they are rebranding cars as smartphones on wheels, taking note of the fact that for 39 percent of car buyers in the United States, technology is the number one selling point compared to 14 percent who value horsepower and handling most. Accordingly, researchers anticipate the number of Internet-connected cars to surge from 36 million today to 152 million five years down the road.