Why Aren't Young People Buying Cars?

It almost goes without saying that transportation options are different depending on where you live. If you live in a small town, there's a good chance you can get around without having to own a car. Maybe you have to drive to a grocery store on the outskirts, but hopefully you live in a place with a vibrant downtown. At the opposite extreme, let's say you live in a big city. There's a good chance you can rely on public transportation to get across town, then walk a few blocks to get to your destination. If you live in a typical mid-size city, then there probably isn't very good public transportation, destinations are spread out and there might not even be good sidewalks linking things together. Only in a vibrant central city is it truly possible to get around without owning a car.

It should come as no surprise that more and more young people are doing without cars. An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago discussed the difficulty auto manufacturers are having selling new cars to young people. No matter how cool they make them, young people aren't taking the bait. It's a cliche, but it probably is true, that when young people graduate from college they tend to move to the big city. A car would only complicate their lives - instead of a car, they take a taxi or rent a car for a trip out of town. And this way, they don't have to pay exorbitant parking fees when the car is not needed.

This makes us wonder, if auto makers want to regain the youthful market, why don't they do some R&D to come up with products that would be useful to young people living in cities large and small? A good start would be a practical electric bike/scooter/motorcycle with some good storage so it can be used for grocery shopping. BMW's C1 covered motorcycle was ahead of its time and didn't do very well commercially, but this design would seem quite compelling to keep riders dry and even warm. If you can't sell young people cars, sell them something they might actually be able to use, and that won't cost a fortune to park.

Another possible solution for auto makers is to get directly involved with car-sharing efforts. They could design various types of vehicles that can meet the challenges of being a part of a fleet, such as Car2Go, now popular in San Diego, Portland, Austin, Vancouver, and DC, as well as Europe. Car-sharing vehicles need to be easy to maintain, easy to clean, and feature more user-serviceable parts so car-sharing staff can keep them in excellent condition. The car-sharing vehicles could be electric and provide a way for auto manufactures to experiment with swappable batteries. Instead of storing the car-sharing vehicles in one giant centralized location, why not have a smartphone app that lets subscribers find cars in parking spots throughout the city.

Rather than question why young people are not purchasing cars, maybe auto manufacturers should see how young people are living and create products that will appeal to them. It is very likely that new, innovative products would appeal to drivers of all ages, potentially transforming our cities with new transportation modes. Hopefully these new products will be useful in all cities regardless of size and presence (or lack) of public transportation. Each time a young person chooses not to purchase a car, that's one less vehicle creating traffic, polluting the air, taking up space when it's not being driven, and also most likely one young person who is walking, riding a bike and/or taking public transportation. We're not saying that cars aren't useful and don't have a purpose - but we do wonder whether the fact that young people are purchasing fewer cars might indicate that auto makers should think more innovatively.