Last month, we heard Tom Lane, a Nissan executive, publicly lamenting that “people are losing interest in automobiles.” He ascribes the “ennui” about cars that surrounds him in Japan to irrevocable social factors: an aging society, the escalating cost of car ownership, newer and ever more pocketable gizmos. From a WSJ article by John Murphy:
Nissan designers interviewed 16-to-20-year-olds four years ago in Japan, the U.S., Europe and China to grasp how cars fit into their lives. They were surprised to find that many youths world-wide felt cars were unnecessary and even uncool because they pollute and cause congestion, Mr. Bancon says. The feeling was particularly strong in Tokyo, where computers and Internet access are widely available and where mass transit is inexpensive and reliable — making the car makers’ predicament worse here than in many other parts of the world.
A poll for Nihon Keizai Shimbun found only 25% of men in their 20s wanting cars, down from 48% in 2000 — and it shows in sales, which have slumped 30% since 1990, and actually began falling faster as Japan’s economy began growing again in recent years.
It appears that Lane could be on to something even bigger. I vaguely remember an L.A. Times article long ago about teens delaying their licenses, with a surprising number of California teens simply forgoing licenses, but Mary Chapman and Micheline Maynard report on the national trend in the Times:
In the last decade, the proportion of 16-year-olds nationwide who hold driver’s licenses has dropped from nearly half to less than one-third, according to statistics from the Federal Highway Administration. Reasons vary, including tighter state laws governing when teenagers can drive, higher insurance costs and a shift… to expensive private driving academies… experts also add parents who are willing to chauffeur their children to activities, and pastimes like surfing the Web that keep them indoors and glued to computers…
“Oh, I guess I just haven’t done it yet, you know?” said Jaclyn [Frederick, 17], a senior at Ferndale High School, in Ferndale, Mich.
Hmm, eleven years later, I still just haven’t gotten around to it. And some parents evidently agree with the trend of further tightening licensing requirements for safety’s sake:
“This [delaying her daughter’s full license] is in hope of instilling an element of fear,” [Teresa Sheffer, a pediatric nurse in Bethlehem, Ga.] said. “Cars are lethal weapons, and I want to make sure she has the experience she needs, and knows what can happen when you don’t pay attention.”
You know this maybe signs of a significant change. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago getting your license and driving to school was almost a right of passage. To see kids not worry about it wow that is change.
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And now there’s this, from “veteran auto industry analyst” John Casesa, quoted by Maynard: “There’s a cultural change taking place. It’s partly because of the severe economic contraction. But younger consumers are viewing an automobile with a jaundiced eye. They don’t view the car the way their parents did, and they don’t have the money that their parents did.”
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A post by Richard Florida highlights recent statistics published in Ad Age about declining VMT and license holder rates among Americans under 30. Perhaps this cohort is disproportionately accountable for the flattening in VMT growth in recent years?
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