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MSNBC: Teens falling out of love with cars

Posted by on November 5th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Bike lane in action

Teens are looking past cars these days.
(Photo © J. Maus)

An interesting article published on today touched on a trend we’ve been hearing about for a while now — that today’s teens aren’t as excited about getting a car as their parents were. Here are the stats via MSNBC:

The percentage of new cars sold to 21- to 34-year-olds hit a high of nearly 38 percent in 1985 but stands at around 27 percent today… Just 31 percent of 16-year-olds had their license in 2008, down from about 42 percent in 1994.

Ready to Ride Fashion Show-15

It’s much easier to show off your
fashion sense on a bike.

The article cites the bad economy as one of the factors kids aren’t hopping into cars as fast as they used to. Cars are a big expense, so young people are thinking harder before putting their scarce funds toward them. Another big trend people are talking about is that teenagers adore their smart phones and other mobile devices so much they don’t want to be distracted by driving when they can sit on a bus and text and play games to their heart’s content.

But clearly there are larger forces at work here. For years, car makers have spent more than any other industry on advertising and it’s becoming harder and harder to influence teens that way, not to mention that kids today are much more media literate than previous generations.

It will be interesting to see is how automakers react to these troubling (for them) statistics. They’ll likely continue to turn their cars into one big gadget (which has troubling consequences in terms of distracted driving); but will that be enough? One thing you can count on is that they won’t simply give up.

Read the full article on MSNBC.

Do you have teenagers? Are they chomping at the bit for a new car?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Spencer Boomhower November 5, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    So much of it depends upon location. If you’re a kid growing up in a place so spread out you need someone to drive you everywhere, getting your own car can be an exquisite burst of freedom (just like getting a bike can be for a younger kid). Have to admit I dumped my bike when I got my first car, and put in thousands of miles exploring as far afield as I could. But I came back to the bike when my exploring took me to cities like Savannah, San Fran, Bend, Seattle, and Portland; places better explored by foot, bike, and bus.

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  • Red Five November 5, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Who can afford a car when you’re facing skyrocketing health care costs?

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  • Paul Tay November 5, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Maybe they are all making out in the back of da bus? Naaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Not a chance.

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  • Rick Hamell November 5, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Maybe it’s because all the cars that teens would be buying look like utter crap? Most of them are going to be buying late 1990’s, early 2000 second hand cars, not brand new off the lot cars.

    Dear Detroit, want to make money? Take all your old, most popular designs. DO NOT CHANGE THE BODY STYLE, but retool everything under that. Profit!

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  • Jean November 5, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Hmmm….I would love to know how many teenage girls would still prefer their lovebeat to have access to a car for…fun and other stuff.

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  • 3-speeder November 5, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Thanks for this article, Jonathan. I had never seen these statistics before. Interesting.

    Recently, I’ve commonly heard stories from college age folks in Madison WI about having trouble organizing outdoor trips (kayaking, xc skiing, etc) because of difficulty finding enough people with cars. In the 1980’s (when I was in their shoes in the same club), there was never that sort of issue.

    I think the expense of operating a car now creates many second thoughts, and a large share of that demographic just doesn’t see it being worth it. Especially when improvements in transit and bicycle facilities give other options.

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  • 9watts November 5, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Sometimes the solution to our problems are right under our noses. But we have to ask the right question or we miss it. According to the 2000 Census, 18.5% of Multnomah Co. households didn’t own any cars. And yet in our conversations day-to-day we assume that everyone has/wants/relies on a car; that it is impossible to imagine our society without them; that we will always have cars, they’ll just be electric, or something along these lines.

    Maybe the folks in the Woodlawn neighborhood should ask members of Generation Y what they think about the proposed public art…

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  • jim November 5, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    My kid will be happy someday when cars have facebook built in (verbal version of course)

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  • EugeneBicyclist November 6, 2010 at 7:18 am

    I know a few people in their early 20s who haven’t bother getting a drivers license at all –but this is Eugene. I think it’s sort of a badge of honor for them.

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  • Red Five November 6, 2010 at 8:15 am

    In Eugene, remaining under the influence of something at all times is a badge of honor.

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  • Robert November 6, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Risk. Old is old. I’m 41 and wouldn’t want to be seen in a camaro, charger or the like.

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  • Jim Lee November 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    1948 Chrysler

    1956 Imperial

    1965 Baracuda


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  • DenverCX November 6, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Nice, Jim!
    I’ve got a ’71 BMW 2002, “daily” driver, when I can’t bike commute to work.

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  • Paul Hanrahan November 6, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Sorry Jim & DenverCX, I like to look at old cars, and I used to want to own one, until I read one of the best air pollution devices is the catalytic converter, on all cars since ’77. I wouldn’t drive anything older now, unless it had one.
    Just my 2cnts

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  • peder horner November 6, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Good point Jim. I think mine has one. But, one also has to realize that there is a lot of good in owning old. This is opposed to buying a new “green” car or building a new “green” house. Better to reuse than to buy new, I’d say.

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  • peder horner November 6, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Err Paul.

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  • peder horner November 6, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Err Paul.

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  • Red Five November 6, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    I still don’t understand why the hippies love those stinking old Volkswagens? They are huge polluters.

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  • Hart Noecker November 7, 2010 at 9:13 am

    The article should have been written as a celebration of the death of the automobile instead of as a warning for the car companies.

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  • q`Tzal November 7, 2010 at 11:55 am

    I love the unforseen economic consequenses of crude prices going up continuously from now on.
    Certainly we expect the price of gas & diesel to increase continuously and unpredictably; it creates a nice note of fear of the monetary consquences of relying on a petro fueled auto.
    What the general public didn’t expect was the price of road building and maintenance to go up. As refineries pushed for higher yields of top tier hydrocarbons the production of waster when down. Normally this would be good, less waste, but in this case the waste is the tar that is the primary constituent of Asphalt.
    As the price of asphalt when up concrete became much more attractive while driving up the overal cost of driving.

    Our economy, and much of our current chemical fabrication technology, is petrochemical based. As the price of crude rise inexorably to the fuure lack of supply we can expect industrial processes to experience anything from transitional incovienience to out right collapse if the there are no economicly viable alternatives to the petrochemical process.

    I’m not predicting a cataclysmic economic situation, like Ken Avidor, but I think even the most optimistic youth knows that the old ways are on the way out in their lifetime.

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  • wsbob November 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    “…the waste is the tar that is the primary constituent of Asphalt. …” q`Tzal #20

    Do tires too, happen to be made of some of that waste? While gas and diesel prices have soared, tire prices have remained stable for the longest time.

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  • Ryan November 8, 2010 at 3:17 am

    My interest in cars peaked at 14. From then on my interest kept falling.
    Up until I was 17 I would walk and take the bus everywhere.

    At 18 I finally opted to start cycling and have been ever since.

    Now at 24 I still don’t have a drivers license and never have. I have only been in a moving car twice in the past 4 years.

    I would much rather put my money towards something else, such as a computer or something for it or simply just save it.

    I have absolutely zero interest in ever getting a car.

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  • Jack November 8, 2010 at 8:30 am

    When I was ~19, the opportunity arose for me to purchase a new car. My car of choice has served me well for 8 years now but it’s poor fuel economy and significant insurance costs have become a continually growing point of discomfort. A few months ago, a stranger did me a favor by just taking my car away. After three painless months of not owning a car, and just before taking the insurance claim, the stranger goes and gets himself caught! So now I have a car again, or will once it gets back from the shop.

    Anyways, since moving to Portland I’ve come to depend less and less on my car, but never considered getting rid of it entirely. But these three months have shown me just how easy — not to mention lucrative — it could be.

    If I could go back to when I was 19, I’d buy a sweet commuter, a mtn bike, a cx bike, a 29″ uni, some fresh cheese curds and put the other 75% of the cost of that car towards travel and/or savings.

    Then maybe by 2010 I would do better at cross crusade.

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  • chris November 8, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Re: #2
    Who can afford a car with 6-figure college debt and a restaurant job?

    I built and ride a bicycle that saves me over $300 a month. As a pilot, I love that the first airplane was built by bicycle frame-builders. From a 25-year-old, cars are excessive and largely unnecessary.

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  • Rick Hamell November 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Gustave Whitehead was not a bicycle frame-builder… (predates Wright Brothers by two years)

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  • lda November 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I’ve have a 17 year old son. He’s expressed little interest in getting his driving permit let alone license. He has two bikes and an all-zone bus pass and he lives close in NE. Most of his friends don’t have their licenses either. The only drawback for him is when I won’t get out of bed at 11:00pm and take him to 24hr fitness. Unfortunately, Tri-Met has cut back so many bus lines in my neighborhood that he can’t get there easily via bus either. I bought him a high powered bike light…one more bike rider, and one more potential loss for Tri-Met.

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  • jv November 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Re : # 24

    Cars are cheap if you know how/where to look for them, and are willing to learn and fix things yourself. It is very gratifying to fix and maintain complicated machines and solve problems, which you as a pilot should appreciate.

    There are many cars that can be bought for less than a high-end smartphone, and I have paid less for all the cars I have owned than I would pay for a new laptop. Insuring my 80’s vintage car is cheaper monthly for me than if I were to have a premium data plan on any major wireless carrier.

    The reason that I think youth are choosing other things to spend money on and build their social image around is that our culture is giving them lots of entertaining options/distractions. In our disposable culture of electronics and passing fads, I can understand why youth would not want to own something that requires so much maintenance and attention as a personal motor vehicle. Many people don’t even want the responsibility of properly maintaining a derailleur…

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  • wayneh November 8, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    My son, now 23, hasn’t had his own wheels for years now. When he’s at OSU he rides his bike everywhere, like I did when I went to UC Davis, which was a campus closed to cars. When he’s back home he rides his bike or his scooter. I hope we can look to this generation to help drive the alternative transportation movement forward as advocates, planners, developers and decision-makers.

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  • craig November 9, 2010 at 9:03 am

    My teen (now almost 16) stopped daydreaming about her first car (out loud, anyway) about a year ago. That was about a year after our family had gone car-free, and by that time our family discussions had become regularly infused with the merits of transporting oneself by foot or bike vs. the auto.

    She’s sincerely concerned–perhaps in a particular sentimental teenage-girl sort of manner–about being gentle toward nature and toward the human habitat.

    She also wants to participate in the promotion of her own physical and spiritual well-being, and she at least recognizes the ideas that I maintain regarding the impact of biking and walking in that regard.

    I’m trying to engrave these merits on my kids’ psyches as a regular part of what they know about their father’s values. If they adopt any of those values as their own, score one for Papa.

    My teen still feels it will be cool to drive a car, just for the thrill of it; but now her teen fashion sense is marked by wanting to arrive at school on a *bike* that will catch her peers’ attention–a bike on which she will look cool.

    Cars are just becoming less cool as ego emblems, at least for *some* teens.

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  • aaronf November 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Jonathan, how do you know that advertising has lost any effectiveness with 21-34 year olds? I’m interested in this.

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 9:13 am

    It’s a bit ironic that Jonathan took the top picture from out of a car window. Hmmmm

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

    how is that ironic Jim? My wife was driving our mini-van and i was in the passenger seat. what’s the big whoop?

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

    No big whoop, just that it is a story wrote by a cyclist about falling out of love with cars, being covered while traveling in a car. Kind of like driving to a anti-car rally

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 10, 2010 at 9:57 am

    thanks jim. just for the record. I think cars are awesome! — when used sparingly and only when necessary. I just think here in the U.S. we use them way too much and we have destroyed our cities and n’hoods by letting them run amok.

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 10:23 am

    All things in moderation

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