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.
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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.
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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.”
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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.