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The Complicated Relationship Between Millennials and Car Ownership

January 2, 2018

The Complicated Relationship Between Millennials and Car Ownership

Once, the allure of the open road seemed impossible to resist. Owning a car was an unquestioned part of the American dream. These days, owning a vehicle is becoming less obligatory and even desirable. Younger millennials see cars as something to get them to their next experience, not as necessities or status symbols. Why millennials don't buy cars is a question concerning car manufacturers and puzzling the rest of us.

Fewer Drivers' Licenses

Millennials, especially those born in the late 90s to the early 2000s, are more likely to ditch car ownership. In fact, a 2016 study by the University of Michigan found that just 69 percent of 19-year-olds even have drivers' licenses. That's down 21 percent for the same age group in 1983. So, what makes this generation different?

Car Sharing and Other Ownership Alternatives

Culture- and food-loving millennials gravitate toward bigger cities. In urban centers, easy access to reliable public transportation makes getting around without a car possible and even more convenient than owning one. In places where finding a parking spot is tough and garage spaces are cost-prohibitive, it's much easier to rely on a combination of public transportation, rides from Uber and Lyft, or even car sharing services like Zipcar. The economy is a factor, too. People in this age group have lived through a major economic downturn, and shying away from car-buying is a natural response.

More Explanations for Why Millennials Don't Buy Cars

For millennials, car ownership is also an ethical question. Why contribute to the problems plaguing the environment when more eco-friendly solutions abound? It isn't apparent whether this decreasing dependence on automobile ownership is responsible for the promise of self-driving cars or vice versa. But for a group that doesn't savor the driving experience as much as older generations, the prospect of multitasking in the back of an autonomous car is pretty appealing.

Attempts to Boost Millennials Car Ownership

Although industry leader Waymo (formerly the Google self-driving car project) began testing its technology on vehicles in 2017, legal concerns make putting driverless cars on the road troublesome. So, what are vehicle manufacturers doing to get this essential demographic into their vehicles? They're focusing their efforts on developing autos that appeal to them. These brands are attempting to chip away at millennials car ownership resistance by perfecting their favorite type of car: the crossover SUV. This type of vehicle also suits the needs of the many in this age group who plan on driving for a ride-sharing service.

For a generation that would rather spend money on the latest smartphones, Instagrammable meals and travel, the question of why millennials don't buy cars becomes a little clearer when you examine their lifestyles and values. These pioneering young people focus on experiences, sustainability and saving money where they can. And with the availability of car sharing, ride sharing, and efficient public transport, they have plenty of options to make foregoing car ownership possible. With driverless cars still more of a concept than a reality, auto manufacturers must adapt to the country's changing attitudes towards vehicle ownership.