Don't believe the anti-car propaganda
MARK RECHTIN

Does Gen Y hate driving?

Don't believe the anti-car propaganda

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Mark Rechtin is West Coast Editor for Automotive News.
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LOS ANGELES -- Splashed across USA Today are the results of a survey that purports that there is “little car love among urban millennials.”

The story details how Gen Y would prefer to take a speedy, gleaming new subway to work so that tomorrow’s leaders could work on their MacBooks rather than sit in gridlocked traffic.

But the article neglects one critical detail: Although USA Today notes that the survey was conducted for Transportation for America, the reporter doesn’t mention that the organization is a lobbying group that strives to increase mass transit infrastructure and ridership. The other group that drove the survey was The Rockefeller Foundation, another major backer of mass transit and “the transformation of cities.”

And there we have the agenda behind the research.

According to the survey, 54 percent of millennials polled say they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around, and 66 percent say that access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria they would weigh when deciding where to live. The survey also notes that 86 percent of millennials say it is important that their city offer a low-cost public transportation system with affordable fares.

Who doesn’t want that? Those desires could easily exist across all demographic strata. Who wants to move to a city where the commute is living hell? Of course millennials want better access to transportation. They also want a puppy and $50,000 in their bank account.

Was there a follow-up question that said, “To get this apartment-to-work infrastructure dream, would you be willing to pay huge taxes, high fares, be jammed alongside 100 of your not-closest friends, have your urban paradise torn up by heavy construction equipment for 10 years and deal with a commute that could take longer than if you were in your car?” Nope.

Hidden in the data is the real story: “Almost two-thirds of millennials say that the expense of owning a car is a major reason they want to be less reliant on one, including 77 percent of millennials who earn less than $30,000 a year.” Simply put, cars are too expensive because many millennials are working poverty-level jobs. If their annual wage is less than the average transaction price for a new car, of course they don’t want to deal with car ownership.

And that’s the real crux of the survey: Cars cost too much, or, rather, millennials don’t earn enough to own the car they want. Again, who doesn’t? I want a Porsche 911. Am I going to get one? Of course not.

By contrast, let’s look at a similar Gen Y study recently performed by Deloitte. In its 2014 Global Automotive Consumer Study, Deloitte found that 80 percent of Gen Y polled plan to buy or lease a vehicle within five years.

Of 80 million members of Gen Y, that’s 64 million vehicle transactions. Hardly a car-hating environment. They want to buy a car; it’s affordability and cost of ownership that are standing in the way.

Of course, in the spirit of full disclosure: Deloitte does a lot of consulting with the auto industry. But let’s look at some actual data, where the dollars meet the desk: Last year, data from R.L. Polk showed that the growth in car sales to Gen Y outpaced those to the rest of the population.

In looking at the top three reasons for commuting by car, Gen Y is more of a gearhead than the rest of the population, according to Deloitte. Gen Y likes the convenience and spirit of driving, but will endure the hassle of mass transit if it’s the only low-cost option. The red flag is that the cost of vehicle ownership is driving millennials away from car ownership.

The Deloitte survey also showed Gen Y is interested in ride sharing, living close to work, multitasking while commuting and government incentives for greener vehicles. All great things, but again, a bit of fantasy.

In this era of greenwashing and faux public interest groups, journalists need to ignore Transportation for America’s phony agenda-driven data mining. This is no different from last spring’s rant about Gen Y avoiding purchasing cars, courtesy of a survey from the Public Interest Research Group, another mass transit backer.

No one would believe the survey if it were flipped on its ear, to say that millennials love cars -- but that Transportation for America was a lobbying organization funded by Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen. So why give this version any credibility?

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com. -- Follow Mark on Twitter


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