By Robert Varga
The Federal Highway Administration reported in 2008 that over
the last decade the number of 16 year olds with driver’s licenses
dropped from 43.8 percent in 1998 to 29.8 percent in 2006.
This statistic is bad news for automotive companies, it is bad
for the U.S. economy and it is bad for America’s car culture.
The problem is not only are there less young drivers on the
road, but that they are also driving less. According to Inside
Line, a Department of Transportation study has shown drivers ages
21-30 have cut back the number of miles they drive by about 8
the last decade.
Some of these statistics can be attributed to the state of
America’s economy over the last few years. Cars are expensive, as
are the related costs of fuel, insurance and maintenance.
Many young people would much rather spend their money on a cell
phone plan or a new video game, as a car is just too much of a
financial burden. It is much easier to save up for a $500 iPad than
a $5,000 used car.
The idea of borrowing a car is also more acceptable today, with
services like Zipcar becoming popular with drivers under 30. Owning
a car can be a big financial burden and a tremendous
The love affair with the automobile seems to be fading away as
well. For years, car companies had been able to successfully market
new cars to younger drivers.
The car was a status symbol, an extension of someone’s identity
and a vehicle that allowed nearly complete freedom to go wherever
you wanted, whenever you wanted.
The Ford Mustang, introduced in 1964, sold over one million
units in its first 18 months. Ford was able to make a car that
appealed to a large amount of people.
Competing cars such as the Dodge Challenger and the Pontiac GTO
were also marketed to young drivers who wanted stylish, fast, cheap
and fun cars to drive.
GM, Ford and Chrysler were able to take parts from everyday cars
that young people’s parents drove, and repackage them into
something cool and desirable.
Recent efforts by automakers to repackage popular models as fun
alternatives have been less successful. Cars such as the Volkswagen
Beetle, Honda CR-Z and Fiat 500 have been sales flops.
The Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang are all
still offered today, but they are out of reach price-wise for most
young drivers, in addition to having out-of-date styling from the
Today’s generation of new drivers grew up with values shaped by
iPhones and video games. What automakers need to make is a car that
appeals to this generation’s values of efficiency, environmental
friendliness, quality, style and ease of use.
Getting young people interested in cars again is important to
the American economy as well.
The auto industry makes up about 4 percent of the U.S. gross
domestic product. A decline in this industry would have a major
impact on the economy.
The auto industry also employs over 1 million people, making it
one of the largest job sectors in the U.S. When you include all of
the industries related to automobiles, such as auto parts and
accessories, electronics and oil, the impact to the economy
It is crucial to America’s future to create a sustainable auto
The future will most likely not have traditional internal
combustion engine powered cars, but there will still be a need for
The U.S. is too big and sprawling for public transport to be
For the foreseeable future, cars will still be the prominent
mode of transportation. Automakers just need to get America excited
about owning and driving cars again.
Illustration by Tiffany Tran / The Poly Post
‘Brake’ in car sales, bad news
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