Auto Laundry News - November 2012

PRNDL Changes in Car Culture

By Robert Roman

People my age remember “Prindle” as the lever on the steering wheel column used to select gears on a car equipped with three-speed automatic transmission and a V-8 or a big V-6 engine.

Today, “Prindle” in my new car is on the center console hooked up to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with manual shift option and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It has a four-cylinder engine that accelerates like a big V-6, yet delivers 35 mpg highway.

Just as cars have changed so has car culture. I grew up when “wheels” was a must-have. Between the ages of 20 and 30 years, I had a full-time job and small business to pay for college and a mortgage. I also owned a high-performance car and motorcycle and devoted a healthy portion of my income to going mobile.

Today, many young adults between ages of 20 and 30, the Millennials or Generation Y, are struggling just to make their monthly iPhone payments.

According to the website business2community, the auto industry is sweating because Gen-Y aren’t buying cars at the rate that Baby-Boomers did in their youth, citing preference for technology and the Internet over cars.

Drivers age 21 to 30 drove 12 percent fewer miles in 2009 than in 1995; 46 percent of those aged 18 to 24 would choose Internet access over owning a car; 67 percent of 25 to 34 year-olds would drive less if other options were available; 27 percent compare today’s cars to 1980s desktop computers or typewriters; 30 percent don’t care what car they drive, as long as it serves their needs.

Boomers have been responsible for buying roughly 80 percent of all top-of-the-range cars. In a recent survey of Gen-Y taken to identify top 10 brands, not a single auto manufacturer was mentioned.

General Motors is concerned and hired MTV Scratch, a unit of media giant Viacom that consults with brands about connecting with consumers, to help answer the question: Why do young consumers just not care that much about cars? Maybe car washers should also be concerned.

According to an article in Time magazine, “….there are about 80 million Millennials and 76 million Boomers in America. Half of all Millennials are already in the workforce, and millions are added every year. …..by the year 2025, three out of every four workers globally will be Gen Y.”

As a Boomer with affinity for things cars, I went for decades religiously washing and waxing my vehicles on a regular basis. My 22-year old daughter is another story. Presently, she balances education, part-time day/night jobs, and a boyfriend. For her, unlike her dad, a car is device to get from A to B, a means to get away from her mother, a place to do work and socialize with friends.

Unlike dad who was concerned about 0-to-60 times, exhaust sounds, and how much wax I could layer on, my daughter is concerned with technology (i.e., MP3, Wi-Fi, GPS), gas mileage, and low-cost maintenance. Unlike dad’s, her car is usually the antithesis of clean.

Of course, my kid doesn’t represent all of Gen-Y, but across her considerable pool of friends, there is not one that I consider a car enthusiast or likely to wash their car at least once a month.

The younger generation appreciates the convenience of driving but, unlike Boomers, Gen-Y prefers experiences over stuff, and they are more willing to look for better options.

Consider Internet-based company Zipcar™ (www.zipcar.com), the world’s largest car-sharing service with a fleet of 9,000 cars in 10 major U.S. cities, Toronto, and Vancouver, and “live” on campuses at universities across North America.

Zipcar’s proposition is “wheels when you want them.” How it works: join, reserve, walk to car, hold the “Zipcard” up to windshield, doors will unlock, it’s yours to drive. As for cost, I found the average daily rate for a car in Pittsburgh, PA was $68 including gas, insurance, and 180 free miles.

Like online car wash service Cherry.com, Zipcar relies on web, wireless, and mobile technologies that allow people to join, reserve, manage accounts, and receive alerts and two-way texting.

Zipcar takes at least 20 personally-owned vehicles off the road, and 10 percent of the population is expected to adopt car sharing as their primary mode of transportation.

In the final analysis, we find a younger generation that cares about driving but not about driving new cars and one more willing to consider transportation alternatives. Hopefully, it does not become a generation that cares not about driving clean cars.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services (www.carwashplan.com). You can reach Bob via e-mail at bob@carwashplan.com.

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