When Cars Don’t Matter

Jan 21, 2011

For proof that our industry is constantly changing, look no further than a recent report that shows 18- to 34-year-olds are driving less.

The study of licensed drivers, conducted in October by KRC Research and commissioned by Zipcar Inc., a car sharing service, revealed that 45 percent of Millennials (ages 18 to 34) said they had consciously made an effort to reduce how much they drive, and 64 percent would drive less if alternative options including public transportation, car sharing or convenient carpooling (ridesharing) were available in their area.

Even more, when only the 25 to 34 age group was considered (excluding college-age students), 67 percent said they would drive less if other options were available.

Now, it’s not that surprising a study commissioned by a car-sharing service would find that people may be less interested in independent car ownership. Nor is the top reason younger drivers gave in the study for being less likely to drive-namely, the high costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle.

But what gave me my “kids these days” moment was a mention in the study that social media also plays a prominent role in their thinking. In the report, more than half (54 percent) of Millennials said they choose to spend time online in social networks with friends instead of driving to visit them, compared to 46 percent for 35- to 44-year olds, 34 percent for 45- to 55-year olds, and only 18 percent for 55-year-olds and older.

In other words, a majority would rather text, go to a chat room or get on Facebook instead of driving somewhere and hanging out in person.

While this may not be a the-sky-is-falling reason to panic-and even offers some obvious environmental benefits to us all-it does show that the performance industry may be faced with a whole new set of challenges in the years to come. It’s not a stretch to say that fewer drivers means fewer customers accessorizing their vehicles and fewer catching the hot rodding bug, a declining general interest in motorsports at all levels, and even more acceptance for stricter regulations that adversely affect the racing and performance markets.

The issue was deemed important enough to prompt a roundtable discussion at the recent SEMA Show. The seminar, “Revitalizing Our Youth’s Passion for Automobiles,” touched on ways the industry can continue to thrive and grow by developing the next generation of performance and racing fans.

Panelists offered a variety of suggestions for performance professionals, ranging from hosting an open house or other events aimed at introducing the world of performance to young enthusiasts, to getting active in those social media channels where the next generation of customers is currently spending most of its time.

There are no easy answers, but the bottom line is that, from government regulations to changing preferences, the performance industry faces more challenges than maybe ever before. I remember the day I got my driver’s license as being one of the greatest days of my life. These days, that may not be the case for a majority of teenagers.

To counteract the trend, our industry will need to continue singing the praises of performance vehicles and the freedom, excitement and family togetherness they can bring before we get to a point I’m sure most of us never thought we’d see and could never imagine-a day when cars don’t matter.