The Death of Car Ownership?

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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.


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.


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.

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