The other day I noticed a tweet from David Kain of Kain Automotive Idea Exchange that linked to Lindsey Kirchoff’s excellent blog. Ms. Krichoff discussed her take on why Millenials are not purchasing vehicles much as their generational predecessors did. For your reference the link to the post is cited at the bottom. In short, Ms. Kirchoff believes that technology such as mobile devices and high speed connections have effectively given Millenials the ability to conduct their lives from the comfort of their homes or in the homes of peers and not in public places. As such, the Millenials place ownership of devices such as iPhones, other smartphones or tablet computers as “more essential” than car ownership.
So, do Millenials really not care about cars, or is there somthing else going on?
Several industry publications and news outlets have grappled with this question. The gist of the argument is that Millenials do not care to own vehicles because of a host of reasons like environmental awareness, preference for public transportation, economic circumstances, and so on. Instead, they value the products cited above more than they do automobiles.
I think that many observers downplay the impact that the current state of the economy has and what it has done to Millenials’ purchasing power. There’s no question young people are collectively worse of, economically, than when I graduated from college in the late 90s. Upon graduation I had a great paying job that afforded me a comfortable, self-sufficient lifestyle where I had discretionary income after savings and student loan payments. Many Millenials unfortunately cannot say the same today.
I also think people generalize the urbanization of Millenials and the subsequent reliance on alternative transportation such as ZipCar and public transportation. Outside of a few urban centers, these transportation alternatives to car ownership just aren’t viable. I also question whether any of these observations account for Millenials that may have access to a vehicle from family or may already own a vehicle.
There is no question that overall the light vehicle fleet is the oldest it has been in many years, because of improvements to long term quality and economic circumstances that preclude acquisition of a replacement vehicle. What no one can say is whether this is a short term issue that will be resolved as the economy improves or if a sea change has occurred, shifting prior preferences for transportation by car to other modes. In any event, I welcome this spirited discussion and how our industry can better serve all of our customers, not just those that fit within a certain mold.