The Death of Car Ownership?

From the time I was about 5 years old I dreamed of getting to the magic number of 16. That is the number when one can get a drivers’ license and the associated freedom and independence that comes with it. I would not have to rely on my parents, siblings, or friends to get me to the mall, the game, or worst of all in my late teens…the date.

Increasingly though, young people don’t seem to care as much about driving. They are putting off leaving the house, going to college, getting married (if they get married), having children, owning a home, and getting a drivers’ license. In 1983, almost half (46%) of those of legal driving age (16) had a drivers’ license in the United States. By 2014 that proportion shrunk down to only 1 in 4, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

drivers-license-by-age

Why are these kids not interested in driving and what does that mean for the automotive industry? Is the American romance with cars over or are there other dynamics afoot?  Many say yes, others say not so fast…the problem is that is really isn’t a simple question. Perhaps the relationship between Americans and cars has changed not dissolved. Answering it requires a more nuanced approach in understanding the psychology of consumers today; particularly young consumers.

So that’s what set out to do.  My colleague and I (James Carter of Vision Mobility) fielded the 1st Annual Future Mobility Study in September 2016 and asked 1,000 people 18 and above in the United States about a variety of topics in a scientific poll.  Here’s some of what we learned.

People Still Like to Drive

You gear heads sitting at HQ at Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, VW, Mercedes, and others can breath a sigh of relief.   The US consumer still likes to drive. It appears it is part of the DNA of being American to take off over that hill on the road less traveled.   Approximately 77% of men in our study stated they enjoy driving. Women lag slightly behind at 73%. While younger folks reported being slightly less enthusiastic about driving, there was only a slight dip in enthusiasm.

 

i-enjoy-driving

While people still enjoy driving, why they like it differs by demography and geography.  Young people aren’t really feeling as caged up as they did when I was young, since they are more connected.  So while driving is fun, other aspects of the car experience are not to them.  We will find out later that liking to drive and liking to own are very different things.  Stay tuned for more as we peel back this onion some more.

Experiencing the Present

“WHO….IS….WHISTLING???!!!”

The voice echoed around the large banquet room that was being set up for focus groups later that evening. He boomed like the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.

“NO WHISTLING!!!”

I was embarrassed to be the auditory perpetrator.  Joe, the moderator, stuck his head around the blue curtain partition and looked at me.

“It’s bad luck to whistle,” he said proportionally quiet as he was loud earlier and smiled impishly.

Being 24 years old and knowing everything, I was experiencing a mix of irritation and embarrassment. After all, I was the client. Who the hell was this guy? Before I could muster any righteous indignation he asked….

“What time is it?”

“Ummm…let’s see… it’s 11am in Los Angeles….” I stammered looking at my watch doing the mental calculations for Atlanta.

“No! No! No! Dave, a piece of advice; be where you’re at. Change your watch.”

Joe winked and disappeared to mock-yell at other people before a word could leave my mouth. It turns out that was a great piece of advice I should have followed much earlier my life.

So often we are focused on our phones, our jobs, the traffic, the deadline, the plane trip, and other day-to-day distractions rather than the now. We are too focused analyzing the past or trying to plan the future to make room for the present.

For hyper-ambitious people, it’s hard for them to get their head around a present state mentality. For the highly motivated it’s always the “what’s next” and “what’s not good enough today” focus which is important.

I remember working in a highly competitive environment peppered with young recent A-list business school graduates. We conducted an employee survey and found that employees were not satisfied. The VP at the time said she wasn’t surprised. After all, the type of people who were attracted to this kind of job were inherently unsatisfied with the status quo…it’s what made them great. It made sense.

So how do we live in the present and not become unmotivated sloths?  How do we still retain that edge?  It’s a state of affairs that Dan Harris also struggles with in his excellent book 10% Happier.

I think you can be ambitious and also be present, but it’s not easy. I haven’t quite completely figured it out, but the hard part is defintely not turning off the ambitious restlessness, it is going back to mooring yourself to the now. It’s like a swift current that keeps pulling you away, but you must conscious grab on and say “hey, what’s up in my world RIGHT NOW”.

Try really listening to your friends, significant other, and children without distraction. Focus on their words and what they are trying to say.  Sometimes the meaning lurks under the surface and between the lines. It’s easy to miss, but can be right in front of you.

The same presentness can work with your co-workers; if you really try to find out what they are trying to say, then you will be more productive in your relationship in the long run.  Don’t answer emails during conference calls. A friend of mind recommended switching to video conferencing, which helps.

I write often about customer experience. The essence of experience exists in the present. It is the excitement of getting in that new car and turning the key for the first time or the anticipation of opening that new video game. It is about the smile of the receptionist at the hotel or the taste of that street taco. Experience is about being here and making memories.

If I actually listened to what Joe said versus how I felt about it twenty years ago, I might have benefited sooner from his advice.

I still don’t whistle before focus groups though.