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Industry Outlook: Are Empty Streets Around the Corner?

Some of my peers in the media are preaching that today’s kids aren’t interested in driving anymore. In fact, one columnist recently wrote that the dwindling love affair with the auto will have a significant impact on car sales.

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By Jeff Stankard, publisher

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Lately, I have been reading and hearing reports that could cause us all to question what we are doing.

Perhaps news has been slow as of late (I really doubt that), but there seems to be a ground swell of alarm emanating from my peers in the media that kids aren’t interested in driving anymore.

One columnist wrote that the dwindling love affair with the auto will have a significant impact on car sales.

While this group of kids and many readers of Tomorrow’s Technician are commonly referred to as Generation Y, they also go by names like the Millennial Generation, Millennials, Generation Next, the Net Generation and Echo Boomers. They are said to represent 70 million people, from teenagers to twenty-somethings.

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According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), back in 1978, 75% of 17-year-olds had their driver’s license compared to just 49% in 2008.

And, the DOT states that this declining trend continues for 18- and 19-year-olds, too.  

So what’s going on? Did this country build a bunch of mass transit systems in the past couple of decades? Are guys taking the bus when they go out with a girl? Or are kids locked in their rooms playing Xbox and writing on each other’s wall (that’s a Facebook term)?

I think the issue lies with the fact that it is expensive to be a driver these days.

Gasoline and service/repairs aren’t cheap, and then when you factor in the cost of insurance, you’re talking some serious expenses added to the budget. Trust me, I’m living it every day.

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Both my Gen Y children, a son and daughter, received their temporary driver’s license on the very first day they were legally eligible at 15 1/2-years-old.

They now have lots of opinions about how I drive and what I should drive. My son’s (he has his temps and turns 16 in August) drivers ed class is full of pimply-faced kids.

They all know who has their license, when the others will turn 16 and whose parents won’t let them get a license. My brief and limited research study tells me the kids want to drive, but the parents are the problem.

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Getting a driver’s license is still a right of passage, which is fueled by the need for independence, but also the passion for cool, fun and interesting cars and trucks.

I tip my hat to the Kia Soul and Forte, the new Ford Focus, Camaro, Mustang and Challenger, and the technology that kids relate to like Synch, Bluetooth, GPS, OnStar, iPod ports and hard drives in the sound system.

I’d say the same interest and passion to drive that you and I had when we were 16 is still out there, so don’t believe everything you read and hear.

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