Myth Making

Stefan Budricks

03/01/14

Whiplash. A mild form of this affliction is what you get when you pay too much attention to media reports based on studies that appear in medical journals. Coffee is bad for you one study finds, shortly after which another finds coffee is good for you; red wine is bad for you, red wine is good for you. We learn to take these reports with a pinch of salt, which, by the way, used to be bad for you. I think that’s still the case, but cannot vouch for next week. 

Now this head-snapping ailment is being introduced in the “youth and their cars” discussion. Several months back, we fretted about the implications for car washing of a Los Angeles Times report that pointed to dwindling new-car sales attributable to drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 — 2 percent of new-car sales in 2012 versus 3.4 percent in 1985. The report also highlighted the ever-diminishing percentage of teenagers — at every age level — who held a driver’s license. The newspaper theorized that fewer teenagers would form the “same emotional attachment to driving as their parents, who aspired to luxury or performance cars as status symbols.”

The recently released J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Automotive Media and Marketing 

Report dismisses as a myth the suggestion that young consumers are really not interested in new vehicles. Consumers 25 years old and younger account for a steadily increasing proportion of “total automotive retail sales” since 2009, the report finds. These young drivers are responsible for more than 6 percent of all new-vehicle sales. 

We are looking at two disparate age groups here: one comprising drivers between 15 and 20 years of age, the other drivers 25 years old and younger. It’s to be expected that, compared to the former, the latter would be responsible for a greater proportion of new-car sales. The sales numbers attributed to each group do not contradict one another. The downward trend in new-car acquisition by 15 to 20 year olds is therefore no less troubling.

To support its contention that young consumers have an undiminished interest in new cars, the J.D. Power report points to its finding that 33 percent of young new-car buyers like their vehicle to stand out in a crowd compared to 20 percent of buyers across all age groups who feel the same. Nineteen percent of the 25-and-younger  group compared to 10 percent of the all-ages group feel that others can tell a lot about them by their vehicle. The report notes the younger set’s appreciation for challenging roadways and their preference for cars with responsive handling and powerful acceleration.

The problem is the J.D. Power report is based on a survey of drivers who acquired their vehicle between May 2012 and April 2013. Well, of course these survey respondents are interested in new cars — they just purchased a new car, didn’t they? To confidently label the reported disinterest in new cars among young consumers as a myth, it might serve to also survey those within the age group who did not purchase a new car.

Regardless of whether interest in new cars among the young is receding or growing, there is one bit of car enthusiasm we would rather do without: 29 percent of young drivers, J.D. Power reports, wash and wax their car themselves. 



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