GM's Chief Economist Is Badass Because He Gets The Millennial Question

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If I wore a hat, it would be off to Dr. G. Mustafa Mohatarem, the chief economist for General Motors, who is one of the first people in the auto industry to use common sense when talking about why kids aren't buying cars.


Just this morning, we read how auto industry people are lamenting that younger people aren't buying expensive cars two at a time like their 63-year-old retired parents, which prompted a rage-filled screed from me explaining that it's not because of smartphones, but because of unemployment and student loan debt.

It turns out Mohatarem gets it too! According to The Detroit News, Mohatarem told the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars that rising costs are keeping young folks out of cars, not their obsession with iPhones. Common sense at last!

He downplayed the theory that teens care more about their smartphones and Internet access than vehicles as auto sales stall among younger people.

“I don’t see any evidence that the young people are losing interest in cars,” he said.

The bigger problem, he said, is that young are having a challenging time finding jobs. He said high student loan debt also is prohibiting some younger adults from buying new vehicles. “That obviously constrains their ability to go out and get another loan.”

Dr. Mohatarem, I don't know you at all, but from now on, you and I are buds. We're BFFs, you could say. I might even invite you to the next molly-fueled rave I go to so the other Millennials can thank you in person over the pounding dubstep music and "Get Lucky" remixes.

Why am I so excited to hear this from an auto industry official? Because until now, the official line about why car sales are down among young people — promoted by carmakers, academics, and especially the news media — is because of smartphones and social media and subways.


You have Ford spouting off consultant-driven bullshit about Millennials' "need to be connected," you have outlets like TheStreet running around doing interviews with young New Yorkers about why they don't think cars are cool, and you have asinine marketing campaigns that assume all young people are hipsters. It comes from every angle and it feels relentless.


Mohatarem's contention that there's a debt and unemployment-driven reason for all this is a breath of fresh air. He's also right that when the economy improves and younger people find themselves in better financial situations, car buying will probably pick up again:

But by the time most reach age 30 to 35, they have their driver’s license and are buying cars, Mohaterem said.

“Buying a car is less attainable for the young, but that quickly changes as they get older,” he said.


Look: This is America. Car buying is what we do. When people are able to do it again, they'll do it, especially as Millennials get older and have families they have to transport. The decline in new car purchases by younger people is a temporary thing.

In the meantime, car companies need to finally realize this current problem boils down to lack of decent-paying, entry-level jobs and the skyrocketing cost of higher education. It's not something that can be fixed with faux hip marketing campaigns about "15-inch dubs", okay?


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You seem to be suffering with a heartbreaking case of confirmation bias. The evidence is out there. Millenials are less interested in driving than previous generations. They are getting licenses later, a telling fact that cannot be wished away with claims that the economy made me do it. Yes, the economy is bad and student debt is high. But, younger people (who aren't in the self-selecting Jalopnik demographic) are, happily, less interested in a car-centered lifestyle. They want to live in walkable neighborhoods.

At some point, car enthusiasts will get religion and realize that there is a difference between driving and being behind the wheel of a car. Getting from A to B in the suburbs is not driving in any meaningful sense of the word (to an enthusiast). It's a soul-sucking activity, requires community destroying infrastructure, creates all of the nastiness of traffic, spews environment destroying carbon dioxide, &c. Driving is best enjoyed as a hobby, not a way of life.

That's what smart millenials are realizing. And, maybe a bunch of them aren't that interested in driving as a hobby. That's fine, too.