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What keeps auto executives up at night

November 19, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

“The automakers see the future, and it is for them a chilling one in which young people don’t buy cars…” – From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City

Anne Lutz Fernandez, author of Carjacked, tweeted about a recent shift in car ads.  The tweet featured a rather silly ad showing JLo driving a tiny Fiat in a gritty New York neighborhood.  The first time I saw this ad I found it unbelievable.  Yes, it’s possible that JLo actually drives that tiny little car around her old neighborhood in the Bronx, although rumor has it she was recently driving an Aston Martin DB7 or a Lotus Elise.

But that’s not really my point.  I’m thinking about car buying trends and looking at my situation is illustrative: I am 44 years old, a little under half way through my car-driving lifetime.  To date I have purchased 3 cars:  A Volkswagen Sirocco, A Saturn SL2, and a Subaru Legacy (shared with my wife for 5 years when we owned only 1 car).  Traditionally, I am entering the years where car companies are counting on me upgrading to a more expensive luxury car.  I’ll be honest and say that I’ve been tempted.  The idea of driving a quiet luxury car on road trips *sounds* appealing, until I start running the numbers and looking at how much life is left in my 10 year old Subaru.  Like a growing number of people, I’m seeking other ways to move around.  Biking and taking public transportation have allowed me to cut way back on driving.  Given the mileage I drive my personal car, and my desire to move back into the urban center, I find it highly unlikely that I will be buying 3 more cars throughout the rest of my car-driving lifetime.  I’ll admit that I’m a bit of an outlier for my generation and that most of my friends still drive a lot.  I can think of only one friend from College as committed to a “car-lite” lifestyle as I am.  But even among my more car-oriented friends, I’ve heard plenty of interest in other modes of transportation.  A growing number of people of all ages are hungry for choices.

If that doesn’t paint a grim picture for automobile marketers, looking at the stats for kids exiting high school and college today will send auto executives scurrying to Costco in search of enormous quantities of antacids.  Here are a few gems from From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City:

  • 75% of 17 year olds had their license in 1978 vs just 49% in 2008
  • Twenty-somethings drive fewer miles – down 8% in just the last 15 years
  • A growing percentage of twenty-somethings want to live and work in revitalizing urban centers

Private enterprise and various levels of government are responding by offering alternatives ZipCar, new bike facilities, and improved bus service. As more people choose to live in neighborhoods with viable alternatives to the private car, no doubt the car companies will keep trying to sell us cars, but will they succeed?

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  1. J. Reddoch
    November 20, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Current life conditions could also influence a decision to which car to buy. I know my decision about which car I to buy would have been very different if my 70-year-old mother who has cancer and lives in north central Washington was not a factor.

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