Lang Aftermarket iReport: Young Americans shun driving


“An estimated one-third of 19-year-old Americans currently do not have a driver’s license, more than double the share without a license in 1985. An even larger percentage of these teens (including those with licenses) seldom drive.

“The unprecedented share of teenagers without a driver’s license is slowing the rate of licensed driver growth across the U.S.  The number of licensed drivers in the U.S. increased much more slowly over the past five years than it did between 2000 and 2013. This trend has long-term implications for vehicle use and, therefore, aftermarket volume.”

— Jim Lang, publisher, Lang Aftermarket iReport


Licensed Driver Growth

The annual growth rate of licensed drivers in the U.S. is slowing. This could influence future aftermarket expansion, since the licensed driver population is one of the primary catalysts fueling vehicle ownership, miles driven, and aftermarket product use.

Car Love Affair Might be Over

American have had a storied love affair with automobiles. In no other country is the ratio of vehicles to individuals as high as it is in the U.S.

The special relationship between Americans and their vehicles may be changing, however, especially among younger age groups. Many Americans under 30 have significantly different attitudes toward automobiles than previous generations did.

Changing Young Culture

Two primary factors are reshaping the attitudes of young Americans toward vehicles: environmental concerns and social media. Both factors are altering the relationship of young Americans to vehicles, how they perceive and value vehicles, as well as their interest in driving.

Environmental Concerns

Many young Americans see vehicles as “threatening” to the environment. This was hardly a concern of teenagers in the mid-1980s.

Today, nearly 40% of Americans 18 to 30 believe reduced vehicle use would help improve the environment and reduce the threat of climate change. This is significant because environmental preservation ranks among the top three values held by young Americans.

Social Media Replaces Driving

The unprecedented popularity of social media among Americans 30 years and younger is a strong factor reducing their use of vehicles and interest in getting a driver’s license, something that only a few decades ago was a rite of passage for U.S. teenagers.

Many Americans regard travelling to see friends as unnecessary since they can interact with them through social media from virtually any location.

The aggregate impact of environmental concerns, social media, and other cultural factors is dampening the interest of young Americans in driving and reshaping their attitudes toward the automobile.

Big Decline in Driver’s Licenses

Approximately 14% of Americans 19 years old did not have a driver’s license in 1985. This percentage rose sharply and by 2008 over one-quarter (26%) of 19-year-old Americans did not drive.

The trend has continued and Lang Marketing estimates that currently three-in-ten Americans 19 years old do not have a driver’s license. An even larger share of teenagers in this age group (including those with a license) seldom drive.

Aftermarket Impact

The changing attitudes of younger American have important implications for vehicle use and aftermarket product volume and growth.

One possible outcome of such cultural changes is the evolution of the automobile (in the minds of consumers) into a service that is shared, rather than a product to be owned. This phenomenon is called mobility as a service (MaaS).

While the wide-spread adoption of such perceptual trends may be might be years away (if it occurs at all), vehicle sharing (as a stepped-up version of Uber) could change how Americans use and own (or do not own) vehicles. This of, course, has massive aftermarket implications.

Six Major Takeaways

  • Approximately one-third of U.S. teenagers today do not have a driver’s license, more than double the share in 1985
  • Although Americans have long had a love affair with their automobiles, this special relationship could be changing, particular among young Americans. The two strongest factors shaping the attitudes of young Americans toward vehicle use are environmental concerns and social media.
  • Over 40% of Americans 18 to 30 years old believe that reduced vehicle use would help improve the environment. This is important to environmental preservation (avoiding climate change), which is among the top three values held by young Americans today.
  • Social media has caused many Americans 30 years and younger to regard travelling to see friends as unnecessary, since they can interact with them through social media from virtually any location.
  • The combination of environmental concerns, social media, and other cultural factors is reducing the interest in driving for many young Americans and increasing the percentage of teenagers in the U.S. without a driver’s license.
  • As a result of the changing attitudes of many younger Americans, transportation could evolve from vehicle ownership to mobility as a service (MaaS). Vehicle sharing could change how Americans use and own vehicles and alter the design of vehicles. All this would have massive implications for the aftermarket.

Copyright 2019 by Lang Marketing Resources, Inc.

NOTESpecial thanks to publisher Jim Lang for granting us permission to publish the Lang Aftermarket iReport.

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