Friday, August 21, 2015

Millennials and Cars -- California

Southern California used to be the car capital of the United States.  Mustangs, muscle cars, and sports cars were seen as emblems of youth culture.  The Beach Boys and the Eagles sang songs about driving the California freeways in the 1960s and 1970s.

No more.

The last automotive pop song I can remember is "Pink Cadillac" which was recorded by Bruce Springsteen, who probably never drove such a car himself.  That was in 1998 in New Jersey, where Bruce lives with his family, including, I have read, a dressage riding daughter with an expensive horse.

A couple years ago, Time magazine quoted research from the University of Michigan that "bolsters the idea that younger Americans are much less interested in car ownership than their older siblings, parents and grandparents."  By 2011, Time said, Baby Boomers "were 15 times more likely to purchase new vehicles than young millennials (ages 18 to 24), and even consumers ages 75 and up have been buying cars at higher rates than groups ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34."

In fact, there are many other expenses competing for the young consumer's dollar -- school loans, expensive apartment rents, gym memberships and wifi/phone packages that can run as high as the monthly lease payment on a car.

I've noticed this in California this summer.  Here are the kinds of cars young people are driving:

Big expensive cars cars -- Mercedes sedans, BMW5s and up, Lexus models and Teslas -- still prowl the streets, but they seem to be piloted by entertainment executives, lawyers and real estate agents who want to project images of wealth and influence.

And of course there are fast, hot two-seater sports cars.  Nowadays, though, most of them seem to be driven by old guys.

The last time I filled up our car, there was a sleek, black Porsche ahead of me.  Two gray-haired guys were in it.  The schlubby-looking driver wore a tee shirt, shorts and a long, gray ponytail.   If you're a young millennial who wants to look cool, buying a car favored by guys like this may not be an aspiration of yours.   

I can think of several other reasons for these changes in the tastes of younger drivers:

     -- Everyone has an Uber account.  Depending on your location and where you work 
         (especially San Francisco), it's much cheaper to take public transit or Uber than to
         buy and park a car.

     -- Young men who in the past might have grown up working on their dad's cars 
        or their own fixer-uppers are more likely now to be building social media
        platforms.  Plus, most newer cars have so many electronic elements (that cannot
        be fixed but only replaced) that they can be serviced only at car dealerships.

     -- California gas taxes make driving expensive even in these days of lower oil prices.
         Last I read, the average price here was $3.625 a gallon, more than a dollar over 
         the national average.  In California cities, the prices are higher still.  


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