Car Industry Marketing Young Drivers – Will it Work?
Once upon a time, in the very recent past, it was a dream come true to get your first set of car keys and drive off the dealer lot. That dream appears to be changing for younger generations as they choose not to to get behind the wheel and purchase a personal vehicle. Reports of declining ownership rates in the 18-34 demographic state several reasons for this: high insurance rates, even higher maintenance costs, gas prices, and changing preferences on where to live (i.e., younger people moving to urban locations with public transit). Younger people are also trying to navigate through a murky economic climate that does not make purchasing a car a desirable or financially sound option.
The automobile industry is attune to this change in their potential customers, and is making some moves to draw younger drivers back behind the wheel. Anne Lutz Fernandez on the L.A. Streetsblog site lays out some of the industry’s new tactics to draw in younger drivers, including:
- “Ratcheting up marketing to kids“: The whole get them while they’re young strategy – old hat, but clearly effective. Fernandez provides examples of recent commercials for the Kia Sorento where toys go out for a joy ride or the Volkswagen Passat ad with a kid dressed up as Darth Vader. Ford has taken a more traditional approach: the company’s Drive One 4 UR School program recruits high school students to offer test-drives to potential drivers and Ford donates $20 dollars per drive to their school. While the premise for such marketing is obvious, it will a matter of time to see how effective they really are as the audience for these ads are even younger (some can’t even legally drive! ) than the 18-34 age group. Transportation groups have adopt this same principle to draw in younger riders earlier. In Colorado Springs, the Mountain Metropolitan Transit agency initiated their Haul Pass campaign in 2008, where children ages 6-16 could use a Haul Pass for free rides on the agency’s bus lines throughout the summer. In its first run, the program increased ridership by 71% and the number of passes purchased by 230%. These are impressive results and the program is still running strong. The age range is wide enough that younger riders can continue to ride public transit for several years and give their parents (and their cars) a break from being their chauffeur around town. Of course, for a population of this size, a program like this is very cheap to run, but some larger cities provide discounted student passes and other initiatives to attract younger riders too.
- “Better Living Through Car Ownership”: The example Fernandez gives of the “Future Mobility Now” conference, held for the first time this summer in Brussels is worthy of an in-depth examination. Attendees participated in a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to influence the transport, design and mobility decisions that will shape the future” by discussing the question ‘How can cars and transport help us to build better lives and communities?’. Funded by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, it is not clear how effective this initiative could be in promoting automobile use. The ‘News’ page on the site links to a range of articles and media that actually seem to promote less car use (no complaints on this end!) and the forums are overrun with spam which may indicate that EAMA isn’t giving this effort much attention. The initiative, however, has merit as it attempts to generate discussion about transportation’s impact on our environment and society. An example of a better executed collaborative would be OpenPlans Transportation Camps. Recent sessions in New York and San Francisco provided an organized venue for dialogue between professionals and other interested groups of all ages and qualifications on how transportation can improve our lives and society. Arguably (in the U.S..), the industry’s push for auto ownership and the subsequent dependence on cars has degraded the quality of living in various areas. Getting seriously involved in the discussion on how to reverse these impacts will put the industry in a favorable light moving forward.
Poor land use planning, lack of alternative transit and increases in auto-related accidents and fatalities on our roads are some of the non-refundable gifts from the auto industry to an entire generation. Fernandez rightly concludes that transportation advocates need to meet the auto industry’s challenge and consider its marketing initiatives in their own efforts to promote “smarter planning, better transit and greater safety for cyclists and pedestrians” to future generations.