As the world’s car industry leaders head to the gargantuan Detroit annual motor show this week, many of them will be in the most upbeat mood for years. Sales are back, the car companies are all making profits. But having weathered the worst recession in living memory a big black cloud still hangs above – young people aren’t buying.
Car and youth culture synched gears decisively in 1955. That was when James Dean played chicken in a black Ford Super De Luxe in Rebel Without a Cause. But more recently the love affair between youth and wheels seems to have broken.
New car purchases by those aged 18-34 dropped by 30% in the US between 2007 and 2012, according to the car shopping website Edmunds.com. Many American under-35s are now not even getting their licence. Given that so called “millennials” – those born between 1983 and 2000 – are now the largest generation in the US, the trend is worrying car firms.
Meanwhile the number of miles driven by Americans each year has also started to drop –they now drive fewer miles per capita than at the end of Bill Clinton’s first term, according to a report released last year by US PIRG Education Fund. And the age group showing the biggest decline? Those aged 16 to 34, who drove 23% fewer miles on average in 2009 than in 2001.