The End of the Car Culture?

By Bill Moore

Seven tattooed young women may symbolize the beginning of the end of a century of car culture in the West. They sew, they weld and they are outspoken advocates for the bicycle, which doesn't bode well for the future if you're in the car business.

Meet the Deadly Nightshades, a group of seven women from Toronto, Canada (four of them featured in this Miguel Jacob photo above) who may represent the beginning of the end of a century of car culture, at least in big, urban conclaves like their home town.

These outspoken Millennials/Gen Y'ers were recently featured in an article on the Huffington Post that should sound alarm bells in Detroit, Tokyo and Wulfsburg

"We [Millennials] want to travel, we want to buy cool clothes and eat good food, we don’t want car culture anymore," says Meg Orlinski, one of the seven young women who make up the Deadly Nightshades, described as a "a design collective with roots in fashion and a shared obsession with the bicycle."

Writes Amelia Brown, who interviewed them…

They are at the forefront of a larger movement in North America. Bicycle culture has caught on, spearheaded by the millennial generation, who prefer the cheap transportation, do-it-yourself repairs, and the independence the bicycle affords. It also helps that the bicycle is becoming a token symbol of cool urban culture -- the same culture that is increasingly shunning automobiles as a mode of transport.

Which might help explain why Toyota debuted (finally) it's response to the Millennial phenomenon: the i-Road (note the young Gen Y woman driving the prototype). European car makers rolled out their own answers to urban mobility a couple car shows ago.

The i-Road is a nod to several developing trends: the first being the realization that automobiles, as they are conventionally configured, are totally inappropriate technology for use in cities, other than possibly taxi cabs, and even here, there are better options being developed, including hitching rides on electric scooter 'taxis', which is happening today in Amsterdam. Cars are expensive to own and operate and a bitch to park, in contrast to the humble bicycle that can be bought for a song, costs next to nothing to operate and can be "parked" in your apartment.

The second trend is the end of lifetime employment where you went to work at the same plant your father worked at, put in your 30 years and retired to Arizona on a nice pension. Greed and out-sourcing put an end to that part of the 'American Dream' for millions of Baby Boomers.

The employment picture for Millennials is an entirely different one from that of their parents and grandparents. Flexibility and adaptability are the name of the game. 60-month car payments and 30-year mortgages are simply too constrictive. If your job literally goes 'south' to Mexico or is off-shored to India and China, you need to be able to very rapidly adjust your finances and go where the opportunities are.

In this brave new world, personal networks and continuous skill and knowledge development (the Deadly Nightshade women not only know how to sew but also weld) are more important than all the 'stuff' you accumulate and have to sell off at pennies on the dollar when forced to move. While Graham Hill's New York Times oped, "Living on a Lot Less" has been roundly criticized for its "guileless narcissism," it does underscore the lesson a lot of unemployed and under-employed Millennials have already discovered: a simpler life doesn't have to be an impoverished life.

As a consequence, a lot of Millennials either can't afford or aren't interested in buying a new car, regardless of how tricked out it is with Internet gadgetry. Who needs a $30,000 car with Internet, when a cheap bicycle and smart phone offers pretty much the same features for $70 a month in phone charges versus $400 in car payments, not to mention parking fees, insurance, taxes, tires, fuel….

And this, as one Canadian car dealer graphically put it has dealerships "scared shitless of marketing to this generation."

"Buying a car is an enormous investment, so alongside the movement toward bicycles, there has been a surge in demand for car-sharing options like Autoshare and Zipcar, " writes Brown.

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that while unveiling the i-Road, Toyota announced that it would be building 70 of them and placing them a carshare-type program in the Grenoble region of Switzerland.

Clearly there are times when you need a car, truck or van, like moving from one set of digs to another across town, but for the most part, the increasing urbanization of the world (60% of us will live in big cities and megacities by 2030 and upwards of 80% by 2050), driven by a host of factors from energy costs to job opportunities, obviates the need for your own personal car. Even Pope Francis, while a Cardinal in Argentina, shunned using a car in favor of public transit and bicycling in Buenos Aires.

Cars built suburbia and suburbia was built for cars, covering vast tracks of land with asphalt parking lots. Unless you live in suburbia, there is less need for a car. Hence the rise of car-share, including electric ones like Autolib in Paris, and similar initiatives. Now with the i-Road, we can add PMV-share, which is what Toyota it's Personal Mobility Vehicle.

Granted, at some point Millennials will marry, have children and maybe find life in the city not as attractive as the suburbs, but there's no guarantee they will flee the city like their grandparents after World War II to all those hastily erected subdivisions built on vast tracts of cheap farmland. They may, in fact, stay right where they are and help shape the city to their needs, teaching, as the Dutch do, their kids to ride bikes at an early age, while pressuring the city to build more dedicated bikeways and close off more streets to car traffic, along with demanding better, cleaner, more responsive public transit.

Frankly, if I were in the business of manufacturing automobiles, I'd be worried. Your business isn't going to go away, but it's going to be a lot different than what you've created over the last half century.

Millennial Infographic

The Huffingtonpost article included the following infograph, which highlights the attitude of Millennials to car ownership.

Millennials and car ownership infographic: Amelia Brown

Times Article Viewed: 8267
Originally published: 16 Mar 2013


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