Another day, another "Why Aren't The Millennials Buying Cars?" trend piece. Sigh. This one comes from Bloomberg, who report that aging baby boomers are buying more cars than their kids. At the risk of giving ourselves a headache, let's take a look.
The story starts by quoting 63-year-old retiree Dave Rodham who last year bought two new Ford Mustangs: "a red one because it looked cool and then a white one with a big V-8 engine because it sounded cool."
The problem is, younger people —i.e. people who haven't yet worked for decades, saved up a ton of money, invested wisely, etc. — generally aren't also buying Mustangs two at a time.
How could that be, I wonder?
The 55-to-64-year-old age group, the oldest of the boomers, has become the cohort most likely to buy a new car, according to a new study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. Graying boomers replaced the 35-to-44 year old age group, who were most likely to buy four years ago.
The findings show there are plenty of miles left in boomers’ automotive passions and pocketbooks. They also suggest the billions the auto industry spends to try to woo the elusive Generation Y, the children of the boomers, would generate a higher return on investment if targeted at older drivers.
There are a few cogent points in the story as to why Boomers are still buying cars, like how the recession has extended how long people work before retiring, causing them to need cars to get to their jobs. (People are also living longer these days, and may be less inclined to stop working if they don't have to.)
But then we get into the same old arguments about how kids don't care about cars, and how they'd rather just take the subway. Car companies, the story said, realize this, which is why the Toyota Venza is selling so well while Scion's sales are languishing.
How many times do we have to come out and say this? It's about money, idiots! Cars are expensive! They cost money to buy, maintain, gas and insure! And that's money a lot of younger people don't have.
It's true that people of all ages and demographics have been hit hard by the recession, including Baby Boomers, many of whom may have lost their retirement funds or pensions.
But when the rate of unemployment for people age 16 to 24 is double the national rate, and you add in staggeringly high student loan debt, it's kind of understandable that young folk aren't out binge-purchasing expensive cars. The word "unemployment" isn't even mentioned in the Bloomberg story, which was written by the otherwise astute Keith Naughton who, it's worth mentioning in this context, kind of looks like the dad from "That '70s Show."
(To Bloomberg's credit, today writer Megan Durisin published a story about how underemployment and student debt hampers Millennials' car purchasing, and why carmakers aren't giving up on them.)
I also think the Scion parallel is a flawed one. Scion's issue isn't that young people aren't buying cars, it's that most of the cars in their lineup are dated and terrible. I wouldn't recommend an xD, xB or iQ to anyone. It's product problem, not a demographic problem.
And while Scion's sales are down, sales of the FR-S (and the Subaru BRZ) remain quite strong a year in. Many of those buyers are younger people, which to me shows there is a thriving group of enthusiasts who love cars and don't live in nursing homes. They just have to buy their Toyobarus one at a time is all.
So can we please start to do away with the perception of millennials as smartphone-loving, car hating hipsters? It's just not true and it's starting to do more harm than good.