Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Yes, young people are interested in driving and accessorizing cars, SEMA research finds

Ford EcoSport
Photo: Ford Media Center
Whether your business is cars or automotive accessories, if you’re a smart business operator you know that a thorough, data-enriched understanding of demographics is critical to your success—at least in the long run.

Currently, when it comes to the automotive scene, there is a popular conception that young people today are less interested than previous generations in the teenage rite of passage of getting the driver’s license and the first car.

Some research efforts have backed this up with data. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, as of 2014 only 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds in the U.S. had driver’s licenses, compared to 46.2 percent in 1983, according to a University of Michigan study.

Much of the research in this area has focused on Millennials, a generation of varied definition depending on which demographic expert you ask. One often-cited definition comes from Pew Research, a think tank that defines the birth years of the Millennial cohort as spanning 1981 to 1996, which makes the youngest Millennial 22 years old as of 2018.

However, findings announced yesterday by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) of a study that included substantial representation of “Generation Z” (born after 1997) paint a more nuanced picture of the driving interests of young people. Among the study’s findings are that:
  • Of the 38.4 million 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S., over 63 percent are drivers
  • These 24 million young drivers clocked over 155 billion miles on the road last year
  • One third of these young drivers accessorize their cars, spending more than $7 billion on automotive accessories last year
  • In contrast to the myth of the glued-to-the-screen youngster, 58 percent of those who accessorize their cars would rather give up their phone for a week than their car
Granted, these findings are intriguing and arguably provide grounds for cautious optimism in the automotive industry that the stereotype of the car-shunning, electric-scooter-riding Millennial might not be the true shape of the future.

But it will take more research than this to show conclusively that Generation Z—which, according to some experts, is set to soon surpass Millennials in population, at least on a worldwide scale—will prove to be a more car-focused cohort.

It is understandable that SEMA wants to put the rosiest possible spin on these findings. Nevertheless, the numbers are encouraging for those of us who want to see car culture continue into future generations.

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