Millennials Driven, Not Driving

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So now the digital revolution is being blamed for a decline in driving amongst the coveted Gen Y demographic.

J.D. Power and Associates last fall took a look at Gen Y, as seen through social media. One startling (to us boomers) finding: “Millennials don’t talk about cars the way previous generations did. It used to be that when you turned 16 you went down to the DMV and got your license, but young people care more about their cell phones then they do their cars.”

The implications of this for major auto-makers reaches far beyond the rising price of gas and insurance to a broader shift in social psychographics. According to Ad Age, between 1978 and 2008, the number of 16-17 year-old Americans with driver’s licenses dropped from 50% and 75% respectively, to 31% and 49%.

Furthermore, miles clocked by U.S. drivers between 21-30 fell from 20.8% in 1995 to 13.7% in 2009. One expert cited by Ad Age is William Draves, author of Nine Shift, whose theory is that digital and social media are impacting the world to the same degree the automobile did in the 20th century.[more]

Draves says that for multitasking, always-on millennials, “Time becomes really valuable to them. You can work on a train. You can’t work in a car. And the difference is two to three hours a day, or about 25% of one’s productive time.”

With texting while driving now illegal, and cell phone use restricted, social digital engagement is directly pitted against drive time.

Ford Motor Co. is investing substantial R&D and marketing dollars into its SYNC in-car connectivity system.

Ford’s Sheryl Connelly, manager global trends and futuring, comments, “I don’t think the car symbolizes freedom to Gen Y to the extent it did baby boomers, or to a lesser extent, Gen X-ers. [Digital technology] allows teens to transcend time and place so they can feel connected to their friends virtually… we also understand the context in which they use cars has changed. … It has nothing to do with performance or getting you from point A to point B. It’s just a change in what people expect to be delivered.”

Ford, Chrysler and GM all have social media directors specifically focused on communications with the “internet-first” generation. And once guerilla brands like Zip Car – about to go public – are making it easier for GenY to have instant mobility without the overhead.

Just wait until Gen Yers have kids of their own. You can’t car pool on Facebook, or get from here to there on a smartphone app — at least, not yet.

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