Amazing News! Millennials ARE Driving. And Their Cars Are A Mess.

Posted by

Dirty driving / mobile mayhem

New research from Vizionation looks deep behind the scenes of everyday Millennial and Gen X lives to reveal vehicle interiors that bear little resemblance to the pristine pictures in automaker advertising and on websites.

Despite the best efforts of product planners and interior designers, America’s younger adults treat cars more like mobile habitats – cafeterias, closets, kindergartens, even dumpsters on wheels – than mere transportation.

This is not surprising to their Boomer parents: if they wouldn’t clean their rooms as kids, why would their cars be any different today?

However, what is surprising to mainstream meme makers is that Millennials are driving at all.

We’ll share some survey findings a few paragraphs on, but, first, the bigger issue: how could such a disruptive reality – Millennials driving rather than Ubering/biking/walking – occur under the very noses of savants who constantly assured us this could not possibly happen because the M-crowd is so much more cool than their greedy Gaia-trashing parents?

Marketing meme makers morph Millennials into motorists

Definitions, definitions, definitions: who are the Millennials anyway?

We’ve covered this before but it’s worth repeating: if you are confused about generational definitions, it’s not your fault. For decades, marketing sages have vied for headlines, eyeballs and clicks by identifying, naming, revising and renaming America’s generations.

Here’s the Census Bureau take; heck, if we can’t believe the guv’ment, who can we believe?

  • Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964 – 19 birth years
  • Generation X: born 1965 to 1981 – 17 birth years
  • Millennials: born 1982-2000 – 19 birth years

OK, Pew recently revised (actually re-revised) the ranges, but we’ll stick with Uncle Sam.

At 83 million in 2015, when the Census Bureau made its announcement, the Millennials were confirmed as America’s largest generation. Adland had already been hyping their socio-cultural and economic influence versus Gen X (slacker latchkey kids) and the Boomers (irrelevant old hippies and yuppies) for years.

By 2010 the term “Millennials” was a metaphor for an enlightened new world whose inhabitants, many still clutching Happy Meals in sticky pre-teen fingers, had sworn to forsake the burbs (or mom’s basement) for loft-dwelling, latte-sipping lives free of old fogey ways.

Atop the fogey no-no list was driving in general and buying cars in particular. Say what? Extra! Extra! read all about it!

Excitement ran so high that, even when half the generation was still below the legal driving age, the august The New York Times and Washington Post pondered “the end of car culture” (2013) and “the many reasons millennials are shunning cars” (2014).

This remained guru groupthink and readership fodder until significant numbers of Millennials reached adulthood – a phenomenon that apparently does not occur before age 30 according to a CBS survey among members of the generation.

Now millions of newly minted adults are finding the Lyft-riding road to loft life, though paved with good intentions, detours through Realville where “aging” 30-somethings form households, have children, sprawl in new suburbs and – who’da thunk it – not only drive but buy cars.

Kudos to self: we’ve thunk it ever since the silliness about hipsters ditching cars first surfaced years ago. Helped many a client see past the hype as well.

Millennials in used cars are not as newsworthy as new car buyers

Emboldened by a recent Federal Reserve report that found the 18-49 demo delaying but not dissing new cars, and hard-headed analysis from auto media experts (see Mark Rechtin’s take Motor Trend, 2017), mainstream marketing meme makers are scrambling to catch-up and “discover” Millennials are motoring after all.

Reality check: there’s always a catch … most first, second and maybe even third cars are used/hand-me-downs not bought new. It was true for Boomers and Gen Xers and it’s true for Millennials too.

  • The 18-35 age group share of the U.S. new vehicle market is still only 15% at most
  • Those “irrelevant” old timers age 50+ account for at least half of the total.

So for now, most Millennials rely on used cars; think of them as automotive training wheels.

For better or worse, experiences at this life stage, when priorities and responsibilities change rapidly, will drive eventual new vehicle decisions for years to come.

Disorder degrades the driver experience

With job security, home prices and residual college loans weighing on many Millennial minds – especially if children are involved – careful consideration of interior practicality sits high on the priority ladder when they can finally afford a brand new vehicle.

After peering into hundreds of their current cars, SUVs, CUVs, minivans and trucks, Vizionation and photo-ethnography partner PayYourSelfie found most interior storage and storage features fall short of ideal.

The overwhelming majority of owners either struggle to maintain a semblance of order or have just given up altogether.

  • Half said their interiors were dirty and/or disorganized most of the time
  • Nine-in-ten suggested interior design improvements to make life easier
  • The most frequent “cargo” (85%) is the debris of daily life – some type of trash, shoved into cupholders, door pockets, the way-back, onto floors and (yuk) under seats

The upshot of all these grungy habitats – some too gross for polite conversation – is that fully one-third of Millennials are too embarrassed to give anyone, including family, a ride.

Until solutions are found, good luck with that car-sharing thing … unless maybe Boomer moms come to the rescue. As usual.


Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMSign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space