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Have Millennials broken up with America’s car culture?

They are less likely to have licenses; they prefer ride-sharing, says auto data analyst

In a panel discussion at the COSM Technology Summit, Bryan Mistele, CEO of automotive at a company Inrix, pointed out that Millennials are less likely to have driver’s licences than previous generations, only 71% had them by age 18. “To them, mobility is just a means to an end,” he said.

He’s not alone in noticing the trend:

Purchases of cars by the younger set are dropping precipitously. Survey after survey shows that the latest generations don’t put car ownership particularly high on their list of things to do.

Perhaps worse too is that those potential drivers aren’t even pursuing getting driver’s licenses as earnestly as prior generations, meaning that the pipeline of drivers that would want to buy a car is not flowing in the same guaranteed manner as in the past.    

Lance Eliot, “The Reasons Why Millennials Aren’t As Car Crazed As Baby Boomers, And How Self-Driving Cars Fit In” at Forbes (August 4, 2019)

Eliot cites a number of factors, two of which are the the ease of ridehailing via a cell today and escaping the costs and risks of ownership.

A 2016 study showed that the decline was slow but sure over decades:

From 1983 to 2014, for instance, there’s been a huge drop of 47 percentage points in 16-year-olds with drivers’ licenses. For people ages 20 to 24, there’s been a 16 percentage point decrease over the same time span. And for those ages 30 to 34, the decrease has been about 10 percentage points. 

Denver Nicks, “Why There’s Been a Huge Decline in Drivers’ Licenses for Millennials and Gen X” at Money 

Researchers have found similar declines in Canada, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, and many suspect that the online culture plays a role: It means that young people need not leave home to have connectivity.

“People envision a future delivering mobility as a service,” Mistele noted, contrasting the Millennials’ approach with that of earlier generations who tended, at the same age, to see driving as a form of freedom. He anticipates that the Millennials’ approach will make self-driving cars easier to accept. 

The panel discussion in which he participated was “Will Pilots and Drivers Soon Be Obsolete” at COSM, A National Technology Summit: AI, Blockchain, Crypto, and Life After Google October 23–25, 2019, sponsored by the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence, hosted by technology futurist George Gilder. It featured Tom Alberg, Founder of the Madrona Venture Group;  Eben Frankenberg, Co-founder & CEO, Echodyne; and Bryan Mistele, Co-founder, President & CEO of Inrix.


Denyse O’Leary reporting live from the COSM Technology Summit.


Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she has published two books on the topic: Faith@Science and By Design or by Chance? She has written for publications such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Living. She is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist'€™s Case for the Existence of the Soul. She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Have Millennials broken up with America’s car culture?