NOV 19th 2015

Erin Baker – Will 'Millenials' Cause the Death of the Car?


A Former Motoring Editor at the Telegraph, Erin combines a bike licence and race licence with a love of high-speed cars and penchant for embarrassingly low-speed crashes. Now she has two sons, she’s largely put her leathers to one side, preferring the cut and thrust of automotive industry debates and wondering which cars have Isofix…



Millennials: are they the death knell of the car industry? For those of you not overly familiar with marketing speak, millennials are a group of people loosely defined by their age: 19-34 years old. They’ve grown up sharing pretty much everything, from their entire lives on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to their music via Spotify, their films via Netflix and their homes via Airbnb. Why wouldn’t they also share transport? Happens they are: theirs is the generation most comfortable with ditching cars as a personal mode of transport in favour of either public transport or car-shares, car clubs and car pools.

Caterham Build video promo

Fewer of them are getting their driving licences, fewer still are spending the required prohibitive amount on insurance and a car.

So, does this spell the end of the car industry in the leap of a generation? According to a new report out, Dude, Where’s My Car?, by the influential automotive lab Different Spin, the answer is no, but manufacturers are going to have to adapt to changing consumer demands in a heavy way. Different Spin is headed up by commercial strategists, futurologists and data geeks, and owned by Bloom Worldwide, who’ve recently completed a five-year stint working on a social strategy for Toyota. Their CEO, Kate Cooper, was in charge of Number 10’s social strategy, so there’s pedigree in them there hills.

The report on millennials took a sample size of 33,520, with a mix of rural, suburban and urban respondents, so its findings are substantial. Different Spin asked their millennials which brands they thought would be leading the automotive industry in 10 years time. The answer? Uber, Tesla, Google, BMW, Apple and Toyota. They were also asked which brands they thought were most innovative. The answers were almost exactly the same. Never has adapting and developing been so crucial for the industry.

Millenials Uber

An Uber cab

Sixty-five per cent of millennials favour public or self-powered transport for their daily commute. Only 22 per cent regularly drive their own vehicle. The group were much prouder of walking or cycling than driving, and cited being able to use their phone, watch videos or get work done as advantages of public transport.

When cars are used by millennials, it’s to serve a purpose such as carry heavy loads; it’s seen as a last resort.

The percentage of 17- to 29-year-olds that own a car where they are the main driver is slowly declining, from 42 per cent in 2007 to 36 per cent in 2014. In contrast, the 50-69 age group are slowly upping their ownership levels to 66 per cent in 2014.

‘In my day, we fell over ourselves to get into extraordinary amounts of debt if it meant we could own a car, even if it was an Austin Metro that fell apart with rust two weeks after I bought it…’

And so it goes on. Perhaps the most significant emotion associated with driving to come out of the survey results is the perception of freedom. Whereas you and I (if you’re not a millennial reading this) would almost certainly associate having a car with personal liberty, millennials see cars as a burden and feel more free without one. A car is a ‘financial burden’, the thought of ‘facing London traffic or the congestion charge stresses them out’. They aren’t ‘comfortable’ putting themselves in debt ‘just to own a car’.

Ouch. In my day (and I was born in the Seventies for Pete’s sake!), we fell over ourselves to get into extraordinary amounts of debt if it meant we could own a car, even if it was an Austin Metro that fell apart with rust two weeks after I bought it….

Austin Metro

It’s not all doom and gloom though; according to the report, millennials do still envisage themselves buying cars, albeit it at a greater age than you or I pleaded for one, and there is still a need to use one now and again, albeit for carrying heavy loads as opposed to playing heavy metal.

It’s a big challenge for the manufacturers but so far, the automotive industry has been the pinnacle of Darwinism, adapting to meet every challenge thrown its way.

Long may that continue.

Austin Photography courtesy of DeFacto, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5

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