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Generation Y Drivers: Why Are Millennials Forgoing Car Ownership?

By: Katelyn Six, Section Editor for Bloc[k] Beat (six1@uic.edu)

Remember the anticipation leading up to your sixteenth birthday? The excitement, the thrill of that long-awaited moment when you were finally legally allowed to get behind the steering wheel of a car and just drive. For many of us, a driver’s license symbolized a right of passage, and served as the golden ticket permitting our entrance into the realm of adulthood.

However, the privilege of driving has taken on a different meaning for those belonging to the Y generation. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports the percentage of 16-year-olds with driver’s licenses has dropped from 50% in 1978 to 30% in 2008.

Generation Y are the people born between the years 1977 and 1994, and they are considered to be the millennials. Accounting for around 80 million people in the U.S., this cohort makes up a massive portion of our consumer population and is triggering automakers to take notice. If this is the largest emerging market of car buyers, big name car manufacturers need to pay attention to the consumption patterns of this generation in general.

UIC students, as attendants of a commuter school, should be especially perceptive to the car culture around UIC. The automotive market is changing rapidly, ushering in a tech-savvy, increasingly eco-friendly generation of young consumers. Just like with that mobile gadget in your pocket, Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, believes that millennials will soon expect to “upgrade” their cars almost as often as they change their socks! In a keynote speech at the Automotive News conference in January, Fields confessed that “When they do buy cars, millennials’ expectations of car ownership could parallel their expectations of technology – where upgrading every two years is the norm.”

It’s hardly surprising that the same people who buy a new iPhone every six months are the same people who want to trade in their 2-year-old automobiles for the latest trend or upgrade. These consumers, ages 19 to 36, are also “three times more likely than their parents to abandon car ownership if costs escalate,” posits consulting firm, Deloitte LLP in a recent study.

What’s more, fewer young adults have a driver’s license and fewer members of this generation are buying cars in the first place. Are millennials simply more apathetic to cars than previous generations? In one word, no. With the economic downturn, many millennials forwent buying or leasing cars altogether due to hefty price tags. So it’s not so much that this generation has no interest in cars…it’s just that they can’t afford them.

So while “going green” is certainly an agenda for many millennials, it’s not their main concern when scoping out and purchasing a vehicle. In a survey done by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute of 600 Americans between the ages of 18 and 39 who don’t drive, 32% of them expressed that the cost of car ownership was the biggest reason for not driving.

Millennials are interested in gadgetry and fuel economy…but mainly affordability. For the many college students who eat ramen noodles every other night and spend much of their money on textbooks, an affordable car that’s reliable is a must. In the end, when it comes to millennials and their cars, price is king.

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