At first glance, Kerry Jenkins might seem to be a perfectly normal California girl, with her wispy blond hair and tanned complexion. But in a part of the country where getting an automobile has long been a rite of passage, the 19-year-old Los Angelino is quite content to live without a set of wheels, even though her parents offered to buy her a car when she graduated high school.

"I just don't see why," she says, ending her sentence with the Valley Girl's upturned lilt. "I can always hitch a ride when I need it from my folks and friends. I have my bike. And I just wish more people would stop driving everywhere."

While it's easy to dismiss Jenkins as an oddball, the fact is she's anything but unique these days. A number of her friends at college have also put off buying cars and industry research says that's becoming increasingly commonplace.

"It's something we're watching," acknowledges Mike Accavitti, the head of marketing for Honda of America. "There is a trend with kids under 30 that they put more value in their cellphones than in the cars they drive" – or the cars they decide not to drive.

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Paul EisensteinPaul A. Eisenstein is Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com and a 30-year veteran of the automotive beat. His editorials bring his unique perspective and deep understanding of the auto world to Autoblog readers on a regular basis.



The trend transcends national boundaries. A 10-year study by the Nikkei Research Institute of Industry & Regional Economy, titled Hoshigaranai Wakamonotachi, or "Young People Who Don't Want," found that a generation rejecting their parents' traditional values is especially turned off by the cars that clog the island nation's roads.

In Europe, researchers are noticing a similar phenomenon, especially in cities like Amsterdam where bicycles are becoming as commonplace a way to commute as driving.

This year motorists have trimmed the number of miles they drove by 1.3 percent – the lowest number since 2003.

In major European and Asian urban centers, the move away from the automobile might not seem that surprising. Traffic in many cities has hit gridlock. In Beijing, capital of what has become the world's largest national automotive market, authorities have instituted a registration lottery system to slow down the growth of the city's automotive fleet. Halfway around the world, London has enacted a stiff road usage charge for those entering the city center and other communities are considering either banning automobiles entirely or restricting access to just zero-emission vehicles or plug-in hybrids operating on battery power.

Here in the States, a study by the Department of Transportation shows that so far this year, motorists have trimmed the number of miles they drove by 1.3 percent, which translates into the lowest number since 2003. Now, there are plenty of possible explanations, including this year's near-record fuel prices and a lackluster economy that's left millions of unemployed sitting at home rather than commuting to work. But it might also suggest that Americans, especially our youngest generation of drivers, might simply be falling out of love with the automobile.

Even among those who embrace the automobile, more and more young buyers are opting for cleaner, more efficient products.

There is, of course, a growing sense of environmental responsibility among the Millennials who are rapidly becoming the next big American consumer wave, exceeding in size even the vaunted post-War Baby Boomers. So, even among those who embrace the automobile, more and more young buyers are opting for cleaner, more efficient (read: downsized, lower-powered and cheaper) products. And they're more likely to turn to their bikes – or even, *gasp,* walk – rather than drive to visit friends, go out for the evening or even commute to work.

There are, as Honda's Accavitti notes, more things vying for their attention and their dollars, like smartphones and video game systems. To some, it's more fun comparing the number of apps they've downloaded on their iPhones than bragging about the horsepower of their cars. And, even if they do have wheels, technologies like Ford's SYNC and Toyota's Entune are becoming bigger draws than performance.

And perhaps for good reason. "My daughter has no interest in owning a car," says a media colleague. "She sees it as nothing but a hassle and I can understand why." When he grew up, says this aging Boomer, there were plenty of open roads by his home in Orange County. Today, the orange groves have been replaced by endless tract housing and shopping malls. You can barely hit 40 mph before you reach the next stoplight and if you can find a place to open up you're just as likely to get a ticket as not.

What happens if they accept the car as a basic appliance and not as a symbol of personal identity?

There's also the issue of America's economic realities. "This is likely to be the first generation to have a lower standard of living than their parents," short of those who grew up in the Great Depression, points out John Mendel, Honda's chief U.S. executive. The automobile has been a symbol of aspiration for those who lived the classic American dream. The Millennials, on the other hand, have to rein in their desires.

Bumming rides from family and friends is something young people can put up with. As they grow older, get more responsible jobs, start families, will they still feel the same way? Researchers suggest that they'll be more likely to accept the idea that one needs an automobile in American life. But what happens if they accept the car as a basic appliance and not as a symbol of personal identity? Perhaps that's already happening as we see the steady growth of the U.S. small car market.

Especially among the next generation of consumers, owning a car may become little more than a necessity they can take or leave.

Meanwhile, after a century of migration from farm and field, as well as city center, to the suburbs that long defined the nation, there is beginning to be a measurable return to urban living. That's reshaping not only traditionally vibrant cities like New York and Chicago, where there are viable mass transit systems, but even long-struggling metropolises such as Detroit. The Motor City is even getting ready to put in its first street car line in more than half a century.

While it's unlikely the U.S. will have a widespread mass transit network capable of giving its populace an alternative to the highway anytime soon, the slow expansion of regional rail and bus lines could play at least a small factor. And for those who don't find the need to park a car in the driveway there's the fast-growing alternative provided by carsharing services like ZipCar.

To say America has lost its love for the automobile would almost certainly be an overstatement. But we may be entering that stage of marriage where we lose the lustful infatuation. True, there will always be those who dream of 0 to 60 times and worship the latest trend in sheetmetal. And even for those who don't see cars as more than appliances, it's hard to give up on personal mobility. But especially among the next generation of consumers, owning a car may become little more than a necessity they can take or leave.




Special thanks to Andy Singer for his permission to republish the artwork at the beginning of this article.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 166 Comments
      Papi L-Gee
      • 3 Years Ago
      For those who live in areas where there are plenty of reliable options available for transit (such as well-developed metros like NYC, Chicago, and DC), I'd say it's been fading pretty fast since the last huge gas spike. I'd also say that there's probably a marked difference the further you get from transit. Many who are stuck in sprawly suburbia probably see the car as a necessary evil, while those even further out can probably still enjoy it... providing they don't have to commute to the big city. Also, Kerry Jenkins "who can always hitch a ride from friends or parents when she needs it" sounds like a moocher.
      Polly Prissy Pants
      • 3 Years Ago
      There's a large segment of the population who would abandon the automobile if they could. Or at least not necessarily use it daily. Considering the cost of the average new car is closing in on $30k and the outrageous price of insurance and gas, why would any young person willingly choose to throw what little disposable income they have into the money pit that is car ownership if they don't have to? Think of all the extras you could have if you weren't dumping $700 a month into a car. If you invested the same amount every month at 8% you'd be a millionaire 30 years later.
        lasertekk
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Polly Prissy Pants
        Your idea of flat-out saving money makes the cheapness gene in me want to party. But I have to get to work, and there's no way around it.
      jumpmanjay
      • 3 Years Ago
      we're endangered species, you and i... [/jezza]
      Making11s
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'd say it's fading somewhat. I think people still love the idea of owning a car, but no one wants to HAVE to own a car. I looked up the old LA Red Car map a few weeks back, and it just made me sick that we gave up what looked like an incredible public transit system. I love my car. I also hate being its hostage.
      Dan
      • 3 Years Ago
      If no one has a car, how will anyone bum a ride?
      DrEvil
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is really silly. As public transportation improves in the US, miles driven will decline. This does not mean anything. I have not driven my car to work since I moved back to the northeast in 1999, I still own a car. I drove to work everyday when I was in Florida, I never drive to work up here. I live in NJ, and work in NYC (the most developed Public transportation system in the country). Eight of my co-workers who all have about a 60 mile commute, all chipped in and bought a used passenger van and use it to car-pool. Some of them actually own multiple cars. They all take turns as driver for a week. Here is the breakdown: The average monthly cost of their transportation was $520, its down to about $150. Costs included transport from home to commuter train, then local transportation from commuter train to job x 2. None of them drove to work, since the tolls alone would crush them. $150 x 8 covers fuel, parking, maintenance and insurance. The reality is, people are getting smarter about their commute.
      carnut0913
      • 3 Years Ago
      Japan has noticed a decrease in their societ for a number of years now. This is popping up more in major cities here, where mass transit has bulked up to the point where you can get around without a car. However, being a product of the burbs, I dont see myself ever giving up the freedom and convenience to get in a car and go somewhere whenever I want. And its not practical not to in the suburbs. I enjoy the silence in driving in my car alone. Its a mindset, and if I lived in NYC or such- I would probably do without a car, but then I cant see wanting to live in Manhattan either.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Years Ago
        @carnut0913
        The electric bike is the middle ground. You get your freedom, plus a ludicrously cheap cost of operation. ( 11-20 cents per 30 miles.. ) You can build one that goes 50mph if you wish. Or you could get a scooter or motorcycle, that will return you 50-100mpg, cutting your cost of transport down to 50%-25% of what it costs in an ordinary car.
      BigFlip
      • 3 Years Ago
      I feel like there is definitely a significant decline in Americans' interest in the automobile which does sadden me greatly. This is most acutely felt in the youngest portion of my generation (1989 - 1994 babies). I think in the same way that the importance of the phone portion of a cell phone has decreased dramatically in favor of it becoming a 'device' the importance of the car portion of a car has decreased dramatically for the same reason. While this is a confusing concept at first glance, it's mostly just a shifting of what statistics are important about a car to a person and what statistics create the individual's sense of pride in their vehicle. I am a car enthusiast that enjoys both the driving dynamics of a car as well as the technology and connectivity features of a car. But I think the younger you look, the more the scale is tipped in favor of the technology and connectivity. A car with Bluetooth, Pandora, Google Maps and voice activation built in to a huge screen in the dash is going to draw more oohs and ahs from the majority of their friends than a car that rips off a sub-6 second 0-60 and can hold a .90 on the ol' skidpad. The car guy is slowly being replaced by the nerd. Fortunately for me, I'm still trying to be both.
      David S.
      • 3 Years Ago
      So the Statue of Liberty, a bicycle and a subway train walked into a bar...
        Kevin W
        • 3 Years Ago
        @David S.
        Lady Liberty has a nice rack! I never noticed before.. Hell she can ride my bus anytime.
      Dark Gnat
      • 3 Years Ago
      Less congestion, less texting while driving, less demand for gas. Sounds good to me.
      Colin Macpherson
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think many forget the amount of debt most come out of school with as well. Personally, I have my undergrad and just finished business grad school and am walking away with $40k in debt. Kind of a big burden. But I was pretty lucky to land a good job where my pay is enough to cover such extra expenses. There are a lot who aren't as lucky. I know many people who live in Chicago who are perfectly happy with taking the bus everywhere. That's their choice. I know we're all car freaks, but you have to respect peoples choices with their money.
        789dm
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Colin Macpherson
        True some people willing to postpone their car purchase because they want to buy their own home because car is deinvestment while home is an investment. Price of house is falling but it eventually went up. Price of car will always go down unless your car only one in a million. Some people grew up and their put their priorities to other thing other than buying nice car. Once you have a family you WILL think before you buy anything because there are so much bill to pay with very limited income.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @789dm
          [blocked]
      PatrickH
      • 3 Years Ago
      Maybe people would be more interested in cars if they weren't continually getting fatter and worse looking?
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