Thursday, October 8, 2009

Are the kids of today the drivers of tomorrow?

The LA Times has a piece that discusses a new survey by J.D. Power which suggests that today's American youth are less car obsessed that the kids of yore. This isn't that surprising since this trend has been evident for some time in Japan and, to a lesser degree, Western Europe. In developing countries there is still a strong desire to own a car as income increases.

I like that the survey looked as social media and networks to make inferences. I think the role of social networks and travel attitudes is poorly theorized and understood. Can public policy target a few influential people who will affect the attitudes and behavior of others through their social networks? That sounds a little clique-ish, but I think there is something to it.

Will the attitudes towards car ownership translate into greater transit ridership and other alternatives? If so, we should quickly invest in alternatives to driving. Or does ambivalence point to a greater problem for luxury cars, as people will still buy cars but more for utility than social status.

I think people will still buy cars, but these newish attitudes about vehicles bodes well for the Prius, Insight and other efficient cars that are not luxurious. Most hybrids and other efficient cars are now simple (except for the drivetrain) and well built, and are generally much cheaper to buy and operate. If utility is the primary factor I suspect price will be a much larger concern for buyers. And if price is a concern, people will buyer smaller, more efficient cars.
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