By 2011, that number had fallen to 66 percent. As a result, among the households of those under 35, the percentage with outstanding vehicle debt declined from 44 percent to 32 percent between 2007 and 2010. But financial reasons are not the only ones explaining the decline of the car culture among millennials. Car Connection, a publication focusing on automotive research, points to changes in communication technology (the millennials' preference for social networking lessens the need for face-to-face contact), location (millennials increasingly living in urban and suburban areas where cars are not as necessary to get around) and "eco-friendliness" (millennials are the most environmentally conscious generation) as reasons why millennials drive less than older generations did when those cohorts were the age that millennials are now.
All of this suggests that in the years ahead auto manufacturers and advertisers will have to focus on the values that millennials will bring with them when they buy cars — a desire for high-tech, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient autos that can be customized to the individual preferences of the owner to the greatest extent possible.
(RELATED ATLANTIC CITIES STORY: Millenials Say They'd Give Up Their Cars Before Their Computers or Cell Phones)
HOW MILLENNIALS BUY
In perhaps no other way have millennials imitated their GI Generation great-grandparents financially more than in their attitude toward accumulating debt (other than the student loans that have been forced upon them just to go to college). Pew research shows that the number of young households carrying a credit-card balance has dropped from 50 percent in 2001 and 48 percent in 2007 to only 39 percent in 2010. During that same period, the average credit-card debt declined from $2,500 to $1,700 among those households. As a result, the debt-to-income ratio (outstanding debt compared to annual income) has fallen from 1.63 in 2007 to 1.46 in 2010 within the households of 25- to 34-year-olds. By contrast, among older households it continued to rise slightly during those years (from 1.08 to 1.22). This suggests that for many millennials conspicuous consumption may be a thing of the past. Members of the generation are likely to carefully plan their consumption, avoiding credit whenever possible, buying only those things they truly believe they need, and seeking the best possible value for the things they do purchase.
John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio, in their 2010 book, Spend Shift, described how, in the "post crisis" world, consumers would seek products and services that provide both "value and values.") The millennial generation is driving this change. Businesses and advertisers would be wise to follow where millennials are leading.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of the newly published Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America and Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics; they are also fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute.