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.