As the millennial generation comes of age and gains serious buying power, we’ve been trying to figure out their relationship to everything — technology, social media, money, family life and especially cars — and what societal shifts will result. In our realm, the handwringing is over the fact that millennials supposedly “don’t want cars.”
In January, car-sharing network Zipcar released its fourth "Millennials and the New American Dream" study, which examines millennials' attitudes toward transportation and technology compared to older generations.
Conducted in December 2013, the survey revealed that more than half of millennials (53%) claim that high costs of maintenance, parking and fuel make it difficult for them to own a car, while only 35% of older generations feel the same.
More than 50% of millennials surveyed say they would drive less if other transportation options such as public transit and car sharing were available in their area, while 35% reported seeking substitutions for driving. Zipcar's study also showed that 17% of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t have a driver’s license.
Does this signify a major shift in the way we get around? Should we make the rush to judgment that this will have a direct effect on new car sales? Is the vehicle as we know it a dying breed?
First of all, opinion or intender surveys should be viewed through the context that they are, well, opinions. Everyone’s got one, as they say, and opinions change over time.
Interpreting the Zipcar results another way, almost 50% of millennials wouldn’t drive less with alternative forms of transportation; 65% don’t seek substitutions to driving and 83% of younger millennials do have drivers’ licenses.
Conducted by Enterprise Holdings, another opinion survey released in February of car renter and owner preferences puts the issue in a different framework.
This survey found, among other things, that 79% of millennials consider owning a car “extremely important” to accomplishing daily work/life tasks — a percentage that was consistent with the older age groups surveyed, according to the survey.
Are the two studies diametrically opposed? I bet if Zipcar study participants were asked the same questions, the results would be the same. It’s all about what you ask and how you ask it.
To fan the flames further, according to MassMutual’s third biennial study “The 2013 State of the American Family,” 38% of millennials say travel is part of the American Dream, a greater percentage than those citing a secure retirement and homeownership.
If we are to assume that millennials don’t want to own cars, yet they want to travel and understand cars’ utilitarian value, then fleet vehicles — whether to move vacationers, businesspeople, packages or dirt — would seem to fit in perfectly with this emerging mind-set.
But again, I don’t hold much stock in surveys that try to interpret the ever-shifting opinions of the American populace. Certainly, business decisions shouldn’t be made based on them.
Nonetheless, there is hard data to consider in this discussion, and this is not in debate: Americans are driving fewer miles.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation that was evaluated by a U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) report released in May 2013, Americans have steadily driven fewer miles each year since the overall driving peak in 2004, and the decline is not driven by economics. Driving miles are not expected to increase. A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute report (July 2013) concurs.
This is hard data, not the results of an opinion survey, and this does suggest a shift in the way we get around. These studies assert that an increase in the use of public transportation and telecommuting combined with the decrease in driving by the elderly — along with the increased urbanization of the population — are contributing factors.
So the need for mobility still exists, though it’s morphing into new, more efficient realms. The car is not going away nor is the need to use vehicles for business. But it’s only those businesses providing utilitarian value — and doing so as efficiently as possible — that will survive.
The question you must constantly ask yourself: Are you serving your customers where they live, work and play? If you can address this question effectively, you’ll be all right. No matter what the millennials say.