Friday, 21 December 2012

The article was first published on Cars Bikes Trunks, NST. 

It really caught me by surprise. But after reading through the article, I can see the rationale of youth in some developed countries are losing interest in cars.

Cuma di Malaysia, ataupun di rantau sini, trend itu belum lagi muncul. Mungkin dalam tempoh 20-30 tahun lagi, apabila Malaysia mampu menyelesaikan polemik dan isu yang membelenggui pengangkutan awam.


Youths Losing Interest In Cars


While the young may love Fast and Furious franchise and Gran Turismo video games, studies show that it's an entirely different matter when it comes to actually paying money to buy a car.
Remember when you first got your driver's license? That sense of freedom brought about by the ability to go anywhere and with whoever you wish.
Passing a driving test was a coming of age ritual, for boys and girls alike.
There was also a time when petrol was selling for RM1.10/litre and toll charges were only around the RM1 mark. A group of boys could empty their pockets of loose change to pay for petrol and toll.
Twenty years ago, crude oil prices were trading at around US$30 per barrel. Today, it hovers around US$100 per barrel.
Young Malaysians today are somewhat insulated from rising energy prices. For better or for worse, our youths are not yet feeling the pinch.
The story is very different in other parts of the world. In many developed countries, fewer young people are signing up for driving lessons, and even less are putting money down for a car.
In Japan, a nation famed for its ultra reliable public transport and high vehicle maintenance cost, youths are more interested in the gadgets and video games than the latest wheels that a car dealer down the street is offering.
Perhaps part of the reason is that over there, before you can register a car, you have to first purchase a parking space permit (shako shoumei). The cost varies by region, but it is generally around RM200 a month in urban areas.
In addition, cars are required to undergo a compulsory vehicle inspection (shaken) every two years. Shaken charges are determined by the vehicle's weight. For a medium size hatchback, it can go up to RM3,000, excluding the mandatory repairs.
New car sales in Japan peaked in 1990, with 7.7 million cars sold. Today, Japan sells only around 5 million cars year.
Household car ownership peaked in 1999, when 80 per cent of Japanese households owned a car. Today, household car ownership stands at 77 per cent. Out of this, only 42 per cent owns more than one car.
A survey conducted by Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) among Japanese university students show cars are not even ranked in their top ten topics of interest. Instead, gadgets, travel, entertainment and fashion related topics dominated the top ten.
Cars only come in at 17th place, behind cosmetics and ahead of watches.
Instead, it is men in their 40s and 50s that are most interested in cars. The same survey by JAMA conducted among persons in this age group found that cars come in at 7th place on their list of priorities, behind movies and ahead of PCs.
In short, cars are so '70s... at least in the eyes of the Japanese youth. Japanese social scientists refer to this trend as “demotorisation of society”. In the past, this was thought as a trend unique to Japan.

JAMA's survey on personal vehicles. Right click to enlarge
However, recent research data from the United States, still the world's second largest car market after China, shows demotorisation is no longer just a Japanese phenomenon.
A study by University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute found that only six in 10 Americans, aged between 17 and 19, have drivers' licenses. Thirty years ago, that number was eight in 10.
The researchers singled out Internet as the main reason for the drop.
"Overall, the observed decrease in driver licensing is consistent with the continued increase in Internet usage," said researcher Michael Sivak.
"In our previous research, we found that the percentage of young drivers was inversely related to the proportion of Internet users. Virtual contact, through electronic means, reduces the need for actual contact."
The researchers also found similar trend in the UK, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Sweden.
A survey by nextpractise GmbH in Germany showed cars are losing their attractiveness to German youths, who now see little advantage in buying a car as compared to travelling by bicycle, car sharing or using the public transport.
It is difficult to imagine Germany, the bastion of automotive excellence, home of the hallowed speed limit free autobahns becoming disinterested in cars. But the research data points to a future of Germany populated by youths with no driving license listening to old men recounting tales of their heroic drives in the roaring '90s.
Proliferation of mobile Internet devices has also fostered growth of car sharing schemes, now common in many metropolitan cities. Why maintain a car if you are only going to need it occasionally? For those rare occasions when you need one, it can be rented.

Green Share Car is a car sharing program in Australia. With a one-time free of AUD 39, members can rent a car for the whole day for just AUD 59, petrol and insurance included. Makes a lot of sense for young city dwellers, where parking charges are very expensive.
Consulting company AlixPartners coined the term Generation N, in reference to the “neutral” attitude of today’s youth toward driving.
In contrast to their parents who favoured sub-urban neighbourhoods with spacious backyards and nice car at the porch as the mark of a good life, today's youth marry later, have a smaller family and prefer a studio apartment that is closer to the city with easy access to public transportation.
While high fuel prices may have been a factor in pushing demotorisation to become an observable trend, a study by Brookings Institution showed that American driving culture stagnated even before fuel prices spiked.
Driving, as measured by vehicle miles travelled, began to plateau in 2004, and in 2007 fell for the first time since 1980.
So what does this means for car companies? In the short-medium term, it means putting more resources in emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, India, China, as well as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
In the longer term, it would require a complete rethink of what cars and personal mobility means to young urbanites.
In 2010, GM unveiled its futuristic pod-like two-seater EN-V Concept electric vehicle at the Shanghai World Expo. This is not just a token concept car that will never be produced, GM is serious about producing the EN-V, which will be sold as a Chevrolet.

GM's EN-V Concept will be produced as a Chevrolet in a three way partnership with the city of Tianjin and a Singapore.
In April last year, GM signed an MoU with the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Development Co. Ltd. (SSTEC) to integrate the EN-V, with the Chinese city of Tianjin's future infrastructural development.
“The Chevrolet EN-V has the potential to reinvent transportation in key markets by creating a new vehicle DNA through the convergence of electrification and connectivity... an ideal solution for petroleum- and emission-free urban transportation that is free from congestion and crashes, and more fun and fashionable than ever before,” said Chris Borroni-Bird, GM’s director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts.
From the research data, future new models from the developed world will have to suit an ageing population. Youths who continue to buy cars will probably come from poorer emerging markets, which means youthful models of the future will be built to a lower cost.
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