You can’t have a conversation with any group in the automotive industry without a shaking of heads and sad looks agreeing, that, yes, the young are just not interested in cars anymore.
But that’s not true, according to a new survey from management consultants McKinsey & Co.
On the contrary, car ownership is still seen as an important status symbol, but with important differences; the car has to show how clever and discerning the buyer is in choosing a vehicle that reflects concern with the environment and sustainability, while demonstrating technology that is top of the class in seeking to plug itself in to their smart phones.
Bling won’t do it. High-tech will.
There is also a powerful mood, at least in the U.S. and Germany where the survey was conducted, to pay more for electric cars. New ideas like car sharing are also viewed with favor by the young.
It seems that young people, hurt much more seriously by recent poor economic conditions, were merely reflecting the fact that they couldn’t possibly afford new wheels anyway. Higher insurance costs and tougher driving tests were also causing the young to put off buying automobiles.
“It’s not a status symbol like it was 20 or 30 years ago when it centered on what you achieved. Car ownership today is more a symbol of independence and an advanced life style,” said McKinsey partner Hans-Werner Kaas in an interview.
“That’s especially true of young buyers, and it’s becoming more of a connectivity device in itself, enabled by technology and integrated with smart phones and apps. 10 years ago you might just get traffic reports; now it’s all (the internet) seamlessly integrated and helped by Blue Tooth for safe use,” Kaas said.
“Cars today almost without exception are a technology product which drives environmental awareness and fuel efficiency. It’s not just luxury. Manufacturers are making progress even with better ways of making the internal combustion engine work better and making steady progress with hybrids and plug-ins. What car you buy can make an indirect statement that you are aware of the environment,” Kaas said.
Kaas said advanced engineering allows manufacturers to sharpen and reinforce brand messages.
The survey showed that 47 per cent of the young, defined as between 18 and 39, showed greater willingness to pay more for an electric car, and are ready to use CO2-neutral cars.
Given that sales of electric cars have been so pitiful, isn’t this just meaningless warm words, grandstanding really?
“10 years ago people didn’t even know there was anything available. For us the 47 per cent is quite a strong indicator of the educational awareness of large groups of the population. What we see today is that higher willingness to accept electric vehicles. That sector will grow as the price comes down and range anxiety improves,” Kaas said.
“We will see from all auto manufacturers increasing efforts to really push the envelope on fuel economy and environmentally responsible vehicles,” Kaas said.
The next level of connectivity will address active safety issues like collision avoidance, advance braking, and lane departure warning, he said.
It can’t be long until technology is capable of taking over all tasks behind the wheel, including the driving. That would be impressive but perhaps not very exciting for the under 40s.