25 March 2012

Why Don't Young Americans Buy Cars?

Note to writers: kids these days are generally suspicious of any article that starts out "kids these days." Like, for example, an article asking why young Americans aren't buying cars.

I'm tempted to go off on the language in the article - like the passage that calls buying cars "extremely adult investments -- exactly the type twenty-somethings tend to shy from now." Or the passage that says we consider cars "the sorts of attractive toys that can compete with smart phones and tablets in the Millennial consciousness."

But, in a more generous spirit, the article makes a good point about why Ford, GM, and other American car companies might be struggling: people of my generation, partially because we're broke relative to the older folks, partially because we don't aspire to the suburban doldrums we were taught to perceive as the capstone of the American Dream, aren't the same market that the last few generations were, and can't be marketed to in the same way. Perhaps, in terms of big old monstrosities that sold cars to our parents, we can't be "marketed" to at all:
Actively catering to the Millennials has proved tricky in the past, as Toyota learned with its Scion brand. The Scions were inexpensive, edgy-looking, and easily customizable. They promoted them at indie-rock concerts and with artist tie-ins. And their sales fell to 49,000 in 2011, from 173,000 five years earlier. Moreover, many owners were actually cost-conscious baby boomers who liked the cars' youthful halo.

Perhaps GM will have more luck. But if city living and the economy persuade Millennials to embrace a car-free lifestyle long-term, chances are that a lemonade- or denim-colored paint job won't change their mind.

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