National Edition

Empty roads: Car love fades as millennials' values change

Published: Friday, Oct. 25 2013 11:40 a.m. MDT

Oberle's love of cars faded when she moved to Chicago. She drove it once or twice, but paid $10 a day to park it.

"This is nuts," she says she thought at the time. So when she went back to visit her parents in Colorado, she sold it. "There is a lot of independence associated with not having a car," she says. "I don't worry about where to park it, I don't pay for it and I don't worry about whether it is safe and going to be stolen."

Gibson also ended up in the Windy City.

"I moved to Chicago and live near Lincoln Park," she says. "There is no shortage of things to do in Chicago. Not having a car hasn't been a big trouble."

The National Association for Realtors found that young singles, meaning those who have never married and are under 35, are more likely to live in cities (31 percent young singles compared to 24 percent of the general population) and prefer to live in urban areas (31 percent versus 19 percent of the general population). Young singles like having businesses and homes close to each other. The majority of young singles (56 percent) would rather live in an apartment or townhouse in a walkable neighborhood than in a single-family home that would require more driving.

The Brookings Institute reported that in 2011, for the first time in more than 90 years, "the major cities of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas grew faster than their combined suburbs."

Connected living

Davis says our society has become saturated with driving.

In the past, according to Davis, in the decades after World War II, rising incomes, suburban living, the increasing numbers of women into the workforce, better cars and better highways all put millions of new drivers of the road. By the end of the 20th century, he says, those trends had played out and started to reverse. As baby boomers retire, gas prices rise and people experience the effects of a down economy, driving is decreasing.

"Transit and other transportation modes ridership has also been increasing," Davis says. "Americans are increasingly choosing other modes of transportation."

But another factor is helping the reduction of driving — the Internet.

A study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan found that a higher proportion of Internet users do not have driver's licenses compared to the general public. "This finding is consistent with the hypothesis," the study authors say, "that access to virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact among young people."

"Back in the ’50s and 60s, oftentimes people viewed freedom as having a home in the suburb and using cars to tranport into work," Davis says. "That sense of freedom is changing. People are connected to their peers with what is in the palm of their hands. That is changing what is important to us."

Millennial love

Car companies, perhaps sensing declining interest, are trying to woo millennials with things such as Apple's new "iOS in the Car," a way to integrate the iPhone with driving.

Ryan Barker, an executive vice president at Vision Critical, a marketing and branding company in New York, says if you look at the interplay consumers have with products and brands as a relationship, automobile companies are not achieving the love they need.

Vision Critical's "Brand Equity Relationship Assessment" found that the top brands loved by millennials include companies like Google, YouTube, Amazon.com, Nintendo, Oreo, Microsoft, Reese's, iPod, Crayola and Google Chrome. Not a single car brand is among the top 25 brands that millennials love the most.

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