Gen Y’s Take on Car Ownership? ‘Not Cool’

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Millennials are often viewed as “game changers” in the auto industry. Over the next 10 years, it’s anticipated that 40% of new cars sold will be purchased by Gen Y consumers. That’s assuming Gen Y consumers actually wind up owning cars at all. Perhaps that’s not the safest assumption to make.

In a Q&A with the Los Angeles Times, Scott Griffith, the CEO of Zipcar, the world’s largest car-sharing service says that millennials aren’t nearly as into cars and car ownership as previous generations:

Millennials really live a different way. Car ownership isn’t as important to them. If you asked people to name their top brands, it used to be that a car brand would show up quickly, but that is lower down for millennials, maybe into the second 10. If they had to pick between a smartphone or a car, they would pick the phone.

(MORE: Off the Road: 8 Reasons Why We’re Driving Less)

Considering the source of the quote—someone who has an obvious business interest in promoting car sharing over car ownership—there is reason to be skeptical. But statistics showing the decrease in teens with driver’s licenses and assorted surveys and studies indicate that Griffith’s take on millennials is a fairly accurate one: Gen Y doesn’t seem particularly interested in car ownership, and is very interested in alternative ways to get around.

The concept also rings true on an anecdotal level. When I graduated from college with my Gen X peers in the mid-90s, I recall hearing more than a few ambitious business majors mention how much they couldn’t wait to buy their first Beemers. But now? I could see new grads saying that only if they were being ironic. They’d be mocked for wanting something so old-fashioned and uncool—something only your dad or perhaps some Wall Street jerk would drive.

(MORE: What’s Car Sharing Really Like?)

Owning any car, in fact, is considered “uncool” and “stupid” among many millennials. So says Nicolas Meilhan, an automotive analyst with the firm Frost & Sullivan in Paris, who told the Detroit News:

“Owning a car is thought to be very stupid by Generation Y and they are moving from car ownership to renting. The business model of the future is to rent. Today it’s not cool to own a car,” Meilhan said.

Gen Y, the story explains, is excited not by car ownership, nor by flashy “high-status” auto brands, but by “more economical and less egotistical ways to move around the city and highway.”

(MORE: The Faster Lane: Why Small Cars Are Suddenly Big Business)

The cities especially. In Griffith’s Q&A, he says that Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., are its most established markets, for obvious reasons:

We do best where there are high parking rates and good public transit and where people live in the city.

In spread-out metropolises like Denver, Houston, or Los Angeles, though, where people live and work in a wide variety of neighborhoods and public transportation is inconvenient, car ownership is seen as more of a necessity, even if it’s “not cool.”

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

3 comments
JasonAaronReynolds
JasonAaronReynolds

Lol. Nice attempt by the author to push Agenda 21 ideals into the mainstream culture. The reality is that in many cities you need a car to get anywhere. But you idiots don't want to invest in public transportation. I AM NOT RIDING A BIKE ON HIGHWAYS. I DO NOT WANT TO BE KILLED! Get a grip.

MC
MC

As an older Y (or late X depending on who you ask) of '83, I have a car. However, I most certainly find it "uncool" to pay to sit in traffic for an hour and a half with a bunch of impatient and indignant people who either haven't had their coffee or are racing home. I don't like entering the city and seeing a deliberately antagonistic stance toward car ownership, with time-restricted street parking and expensive garages. I switched to a motorcycle, but the basic problems were still the same, only I didn't have a cage and the jerks still did. When it rains? You get to sit still in traffic and soak. When it's hot? You get to sit still and bake. The car drivers continue "me first" behavior in their air-conditioned cubes.

Now, I ride a bicycle. It takes the same 20-mile distance in the 90 minutes that sitting in traffic took, and since there is a bike path I only have to deal with vehicles occasionally. I see pleasing scenery and bask in nature (lots of bunnies today for example), and generally feel positively transcendental while getting exercise. When I finish, I feel like a superhuman for having done it. At the end of the day, I get all of this splendor AND I save around $200 per week in gas/parking/maintenance. 

I've had my car for about ten years since late high school, and I don't see myself ever buying a new car if I can avoid it, there's just no payoff unless I'm going out of town. The every day thing is a waste of money, life, freedom, all of it.

bks22
bks22

As a member of generation Y, I would like to point out that car ownership is not really "uncool" or unfashionable, it's just not as practical of an option for those earning less than $20k a year.

I agree with the article; I have chosen a phone over a car, but only because of perceived benefit from my limited income. A car is a massive money-pit that requires quite a bit of initial and continuing investment. Costs associated for me would include a monthly car payment, extremely high insurance rates (male under 25), many tanks of gas, and any maintenance costs. I currently have access to a car via my parents, to whom I am extremely grateful. I use it primarily to go to work 15 miles away, and I pay for a majority of the gas, which still adds up. In the future when I am out of school and [I hope] in a different line of work that pays more, a car will be be first on my list before a house. But for now I will stick to sharing a car, and paying a modest amount each month ($30-$55) for my non-contract smartphone, which serves as my main line of communication and entertainment/utility. More useful than a pocketknife for daily life in a city/town.