NPR: America’s Love Affair With Cars Over?
August 19, 2013
I’ve been pointing out to anyone that will listen, that for young people in America of my generation, having a car was a key not only to mobility, but much deeper, an essential tool for fulfilling the biological imperative. Simply put, you were a lot more likely to get lucky if you, or maybe your Dad, had a sweet ride with a cushy back seat.
Nowadays, the key to paradise is just as likely to be your network on facebook, instagram, and twitter. Result: for millenials, my kid’s generation, a car is less an essential than an expensive, and dispensable, option.
Technology changes things. Give people different options, and behaviors thought to be set in stone can evolve.
Listen here at NPR All Things Considered:
Studies show that teenagers are driving less, getting their licenses later, and waiting longer to purchase their first new car. NPR’s Sonari Glinton recently hit the streets to find out why, and discovered not having a car or not being able to afford one, has become a lot more common. The negative stigma around not having a car has also seems to have waned.
“My girlfriend drives me everywhere. That sounds sad, and 20 years ago I’d be considered pathetic, but it’s almost normal now to be that way,” says Mike Clubb, who is in his 20s.
Micheline Maynard, a veteran journalist who’s covered automobiles and transportation issues, now oversees the website CurbingCars.com. She tells NPR’s Don Gonyea that one of the most cited reasons behind this trend of young people waiting to get a car or their driver’s license is simply not having the time.
“Many states have now changed teen driving laws, so you have to spend a certain amount of time in the car with a parent,” Maynard says. “And people just shrug and say, ‘You know what, I don’t need to get a license right now.’ “
Another reason often cited is money. Maynard says the average cost of a new car is about $30,000, before factoring in car insurance. Add in the high price of gas in some places and owning a car is simply too expensive for a young person.
There are also more transportation options available for those without a car, Maynard notes, from bikes, to ride shares, hourly car services and public transportation.
“Public transit is seeing record demand at this point in time,” she says. “I think people are looking at transportation now as ‘I use my car when I need it, but if there are other cheaper, faster ways to get somewhere I’ll use that as well.’ “
All of this has car companies scratching their heads, Maynard says, about how to appeal to new and potential drivers.
Compared with the rest of the world, the U.S. has long been known as the gas guzzler country — the nation of the widest roads, largest vehicles and least amount of public transportation for the geography. That image could be changing, according to a new study that says driving in the U.S. has already peaked and will decline.
The U.S. is consuming less gasoline and driving fewer miles than it was a few years ago, and not just because of a still-under-performing economy, says a University of Michigan study. More fuel efficient crossovers have replaced big gas thirsty SUVs in many households. Younger drivers and retirement-age baby boomers are either going without automobiles, driving less, or living in or near urban centers where pubic transport and car sharing services are handy. An increase in telecommuting means fewer miles needed to get to work. It all adds up.
The importance of all this? The University of Michigan study says we may be at a peak automotive use in the U.S. Our levels of driving, car purchases and gasoline consumption won’t get above the peaks we saw in the early 2000s. If correct, that would impact auto industry and energy industry planning around auto-plant building, oil production, jobs, city planning and more.
The decline began before the economic recession, which suggests that the lower levels of driving per person and per household “could be long term,” says Michael Spivak, author of the study.