Transportation

GM Tries to Woo Young Drivers

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 11, 2012

A March 2012 article in the New York Times reports on efforts by General Motors to get young people interested in cars again.

The automaker hired MTV Scratch, a marketing consultancy division of Viacom, to find ways to connect with young potential customers. Driving was once widely seen as a ticket to freedom and independence, and automakers traded heavily on the thrill of the open road.

Unfortunately, according to MTV Scratch VP Ross Martin, young people just aren't that into cars any more.

There is data to support Mr. Martin's observations. In 2008, 46.3 percent of potential drivers 19 years old and younger had drivers' licenses, compared with 64.4 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and drivers ages 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 1995.

Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18 to 24 said they would choose Internet access over owning a car, according to the research firm Gartner.

Can corporate rebranding and hip marketing make cars relevant for young people again? Part of the challenge is that the communications networks favoured by young people are incompatible with driving.

The road network and the broadcast radio network grew up together, in no small part because it's possible to listen passively to radio while paying attention to the road, and radio makes driving more bearable.

Not so with social media, which facilitate two-way communication and require active concentration. Walking and transit provide a much better fit for people looking to stay connected through wireless devices.

That helps to explain the trend of drivers licences and driving falling among young people since the 1990s.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. Ryan also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 10:59:15

That helps to explain the trend of drivers licences and driving falling among young people since the 1990s.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest another reason might be the mountains of student debt, and lack of secure, meaningful work paying a living wage, that is the reality for so many young people these days. If GM wants young people to get interested in cars again, they should hire some.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 11:33:35 in reply to Comment 78305

If GM wants young people to get interested in cars again, they should hire some.

Brilliant! I'm laughing/crying/clapping all at the same time.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 16:16:17 in reply to Comment 78305

Wasn't it Henry Ford who wanted to pay his employees enough that they could afford his cars? GM should learn from the competition.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2012 at 18:46:55

Oldest two kids (24 and 23) have no driver's license: they live in Toronto, take the TTC. When they were still in Hamilton, they took the HSR. Next three (20, 19, 17) also don't drive. I'm thinking they prefer to do without the trouble and expense until it is absolutely necessary, like I did. I didn't get mine until I was 27 years old, because I needed it when I returned to the work force (necessary in my line of work, frequently a job requirement). Before that I got along OK without, even taking 2-3 little ones to the doctor on public transit.

Our bunch may even end up choosing their locations according to availability of transit and walkability of home neighbourhoods, the way their father and I did: because we knew it would be too time consuming and expensive to drive everyone everywhere, and because we knew we wouldn't be able to bankroll driver's ed., auto insurance and gas for up to 5 teenagers/young adults at once. Didn't kill them- made them stronger.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 19:46:23

I'd like more about the data presented. Are there more or less children in the age bracket now as compared to 1998? Was this specific to GM car drivers, or car drivers in particular? I don't find any of GM's current lineup appealing, and I used to own one - however, quality concerns will probably persuade me to the competition from now on.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 21:07:59

I'm almost 26 and have never had a driver's license because of several factors that all add up to cost and lack of necessity. I have to go through 3 licensing levels, each of which require various amounts of money and waiting periods. After I do all that, I need the several thousand dollars to actually purchase a car, since I don't have a rich mommy and daddy to do it for me. This is also not taking into account the insanely high price of fuel which has become standard in the last 5-7 years. Insurance and maintenance is also to be considered. Finally, I live in the middle of a region with millions of people located within 100 miles in any direction. Every municipality within it has at least a somewhat reasonable transit system that can get me to virtually any required destination of mine. The few things that I can think of that I would need a vehicle for (grocery shopping, long distance travel) really don't make it worth going through all of that difficulty. I'd imagine young people who do not drive do so for the same reasons as me.

In the end it's just so much simpler and relaxing to get on the HSR, TTC, GO, stick my ipod into my ears and relax.

Comment edited by MattM on 2012-06-11 21:09:22

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 21:38:49 in reply to Comment 78327

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 22:08:14 in reply to Comment 78332

"I have to go through 3 licensing levels, each of which require various amounts of money and waiting periods."

Taking a look on the MTO site, it's $125 for the G1-G2 test ($10 for the G1 knowledge test, $40 for the road test, at $75 for the license. That's not a heck of a lot.

"After I do all that, I need the several thousand dollars to actually purchase a car, since I don't have a rich mommy and daddy to do it for me. This is also not taking into account the insanely high price of fuel which has become standard in the last 5-7 years. Insurance and maintenance is also to be considered."

Why do you need to buy a car after getting your license? That's not required. Further to that, there's plenty of decent cars available for under $1000.

"I live in the middle of a region with millions of people located within 100 miles in any direction. Every municipality within it has at least a somewhat reasonable transit system that can get me to virtually any required destination of mine. The few things that I can think of that I would need a vehicle for (grocery shopping, long distance travel) really don't make it worth going through all of that difficulty. I'd imagine young people who do not drive do so for the same reasons as me."

Try getting from downtown Hamilton to the east side of Mississauga. Easily 1.5-2 hours. That's not convenient. Getting to downtown Toronto is much easier but sadly not all of us work downtown.

"In the end it's just so much simpler and relaxing to get on the HSR, TTC, GO, stick my ipod into my ears and relax." Interesting you'd put having an iPod (of which you could pay for your license several times over) over a driver's license. Well, to each his own.

I don't understand why you wouldn't get a driver's license, even if you don't drive. Things are so much more convenient with one - and what if you needed one for work?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2012 at 22:46:01

Driving rates have been falling across the board since the recession hit, but especially with young people. For someone my age it's just not worth the hassle. "Freedom" isn't really something we associate with cars, and there really isn't a lot of independence when you have to live with your parents to afford one.

For an increasing number of us, freedom, independence and the thrill of the open road now belong to the bicycle.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted June 11, 2012 at 23:13:27 in reply to Comment 78337

In the end I don't want the expenses and added stress of driving. I don't need it, I don't want it, it's not appealing to me. I'm an urban person who rarely travels to suburban destinations. Because of that, transit is incredibly reliable and far cheaper than driving. I don't know why you're comparing the price of a license to a $160 iPod. That seems weird to me.

I suppose there's the argument of having a license so that I can drive my friend's cars, but none of them have cars either. I also don't desire a job in which I need a car, and have not yet come across any problems needing one for a job.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 09:15:16 in reply to Comment 78337

I don't understand why you wouldn't get a driver's license, even if you don't drive. Things are so much more convenient with one - and what if you needed one for work?

Agreed, Downtown. I'm all for public transit and walking/cycling/carpooling, but in the end, a driver's license (if not a car) is a very valuable thing. It can be a requirement for a job, or open up a lot of options like renting cars or using a car-share service that can actually be cheaper alternatives to, say, paying a mover or delivery service, or a short-haul flight/train ticket.

I'd been nagging my 27yr old brother-in-law to get one for years, if only so he had one if he ever needed it. But between living in downtown TO and his rascally charm (which means somehow people always drive him around), he put it off until he met a girl from King City who insisted he get one. She was tired of driving his ass around and being unable to split long-ish drives to the family cottage, etc.

Getting a driver's license doesn't have to be an ideological thing; it's not capitulating to car culture. It just gives you the ability to move people and things long distances relatively easily, should you have the need and means to do so.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 09:48:28 in reply to Comment 78361

Actually, I think you're BIL kind of proves MattM's point, and supports Michelle's and my experiences as well. I didn't get my license 'til I was 30 when I got a job in a rural area. When you need a license, you can go get one. Until then, what's the rush?

I agree that getting a license doesn't need to be seen as a capitulation, but I can't help thinking there isn't something ideological in the assumption that everyone should get one just for the sake of having one. As a culture, we are still too over-invested in the idea of a license and car ownership as rites of passage, to put what is essentially a practical decision in its proper context.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-06-12 10:04:23

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:09:11 in reply to Comment 78361

I grew up in the suburbs east of Toronto and couldn't get my driver's licence fast enough: a teenager in suburbia without a licence and access to a car is essentially stranded.

One of the reasons I made a choice to move to an urban neighbourhood was that I wanted my children to have a chance to become independently mobile earlier than I did. I wanted them to live in a neighbourhood that allowed them get to a variety of destinations through a combination of walking, cycling and transit rather than always needing their parents to be a 'chauffeur service'.

My older child is 17 and has little interest in getting a driver's licence right now. It turns out this is quite normal among younger people today: between the high cost of driving, the abundance of alternative modes and the normalization of communications media that preclude driving, a licence simply isn't as important, useful or compelling as it used to be.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:20:25 in reply to Comment 78365

OT, but the flip side of this is the fact that the 'freedom' and autonomy that our culture grants to the ability to drive, is so dominant that it gets wrapped up in our identity to the point where taking an older person's license away is seen as so damaging to their well-being and sense of self, that health care professionals and MTO employees administering the senior drivers' tests, will often go to great lengths to keep dangerous drivers on the road despite pleas from the family. (Speaking from experience here in case you couldn't tell.)

Get ready for carnage when the baby boomers, the last generation to have their identities so deeply entwined with the ability to drive, hit their 80's.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-06-12 10:32:59

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:26:23

When you need a license, you can go get one. Until then, what's the rush?

Well, if the graduated licensing system is more or less the same as it was when I went through it, the rush is so you don't have a restricted license when you actually need it. "Waiting until you need it" won't do you a lot of good if you ALSO need someone in the car with you, and can't use a 400-series highway, for the first 12mos or so.

As a culture, we are still too over-invested in the idea of a license and car ownership as rites of passage, to put what is essentially a practical decision in its proper context.

Car ownership aside, as Ryan said, getting licensed under Ontario's graduated licensing system is a right of passage for many kids outside of urban areas.

The association with "freedom" isn't just a marketing gimmick aimed at Boomers dreaming of taking their Porche out for a scenic drive. Young people w/o acces to transit get access to wheels in order to open up their lives. Young parents (like us) get cars because because we would visit family in two provinces far less if we had to take a plane/train/bus. Same with running errands, going to an app't on a lunch-hour, etc. etc. I spend ~4hrs/day commuting on public transit, so saving 30mins on a bus to get to the grocery store after work by driving 10mins is more free time for me.

Maybe it's just a personality thing, but I just don't get the "wait until you need it" approach because I don't see why someone would turn down learning a useful and widespread skill, unless they're just ideologically opposed to it. Same applies to learning first-aid, or being trained on employment standards or health-and-safety in your workplace--if there's a low-cost way of significantly upping your skill-set, why not do it?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:55:22 in reply to Comment 78381

Maybe it's just a personality thing, but I just don't get the "wait until you need it" approach because I don't see why someone would turn down learning a useful and widespread skill, unless they're just ideologically opposed to it.

Well, as a few of us have noted, there are a number of practical reasons not to bother with it, just as there are many practical reasons to get one. Tell you what, I won't assume you only got your license because you fell victim to a marketing gimmick, if you don't assume I only put off getting my license for 'ideological' reasons. :-)

BTW, I am considerably older than 30. I made the choice not to get a license long before any notions about the negative impacts of sprawl and car-dependence had entered the mainstream. There was no ideological context in which to judge my decision. I was simply considered weird. ;-)

Same applies to learning first-aid, or being trained on employment standards or health-and-safety in your workplace--if there's a low-cost way of significantly upping your skill-set, why not do it?

Because, not unlike driving, they are the sorts skills that need to be used on a regular basis or else they are forgotten or become obsolete. Unless you're in a position to keep those skills up, it's best to wait til they are needed to acquire them.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-06-12 12:17:37

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 13:13:59 in reply to Comment 78385

Because, not unlike driving, they are the sorts skills that need to be used on a regular basis or else they are forgotten or become obsolete.

I'm not sure about that, but given that I haven't sat on a bike in more than 5 years, next time I do, I'll let you know whether or not the old "once learned/never forgotten" maxim is true. :P

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2012 at 19:55:54 in reply to Comment 78381

Maybe it's just a personality thing, but I just don't get the "wait until you need it" approach because I don't see why someone would turn down learning a useful and widespread skill

Because it is an expensive thing to do, if your family is on a tight budget, and you need every cent for your post secondary studies. If there's no immediate need, then why would you spend the money?

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2012-06-12 20:02:46

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By theOther (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 21:21:50 in reply to Comment 78337

While there are no doubt plenty of cars available for under $1000, I would not want to see my child in one (with his own money). It may operate (safely or not) for a short while, but factor in the additive costs (especially insurance for a young driver and then ongoing repair work) and this is a dog that does not hunt. That said, possessing a license opens up employment opportunities unavailable to others, without doubt. I would need another career without mine, for sure.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 13, 2012 at 09:26:09 in reply to Comment 78415

Because it is an expensive thing to do, if your family is on a tight budget, and you need every cent for your post secondary studies. If there's no immediate need, then why would you spend the money?

Fair enough; I've already acknowledged that means plays a huge part in your decision, but as this debate spilled into my living room last night (with Megan, who also waited a long time to get a license AND hails from a rural area) I just think view a license as one of those investments that pays back much more than it costs. I've never been lucky enough to have a job within walking distance, but have taken better-paying jobs that were not transit-accessible.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2012 at 21:29:45 in reply to Comment 78434

Hey, I hear you on that. For me, to be able to work in a field in which I was qualified, on a schedule that suited me (I could be with the kids during the day and Stephen could be with them evenings and weekends), it meant getting a license. And then when the last one was in school and I was able to 9-5 it, I ended up commuting to Kitchener for over a year. So grateful to be back downtown, where I still need to drive my own vehicle for the job some days, but at least the gas and insurance have been more than halved.

I still have a hard time viewing the drivers license and the expenses that go along with it as an investment that pays off, though. Maybe I have to crunch the numbers and calculate how a different employment history would have impacted my earning power; but, really, it's entirely possible I'd have more earning power now if I'd taken a different route, who knows (not that I have any regrets career-wise at all)?

I do know that some years, when the budget was really tight, hand-to-mouth tight, driving felt like a necessary evil and not a long-term investment.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2012 at 06:49:08 in reply to Comment 78486

My wife and I both drive but we only have one vehicle between us. I consider it a privilege to live and work in Hamilton - my round-trip commute is about an hour of walking, including a detour on the way home to pick up my younger child from school.

At the same time, more than once I've turned down a promotion that would have compelled me to work in Mississauga. I calculated the monetary outlay of a second vehicle ($10,000 a year), the opportunity cost of an extra hour spent commuting, and the health cost of trading an hour of walking for two hours of sitting in traffic, and decided the extra money just wasn't worth it.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-06-14 06:50:37

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2012 at 08:09:02 in reply to Comment 78504

Yes, even though the Kitchener job was great, and a step up, I left after 15 months and went back to shift work for a while- the commute was a big factor in the cost-benefit analysis for us.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 14, 2012 at 21:31:27 in reply to Comment 78504

I drive from downtown to Mississauga daily, but yet it isn't for more money. It's that IT is a dead field in Hamilton, and that's where the jobs are.

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