Millennials Hate Cars, Right? Wrong.

Gen Y accounted for 27 percent of all car sales last year, up from 18 percent in 2010.



Millennials hate cars. They’re all about Uber and bicycles and subways, right? Well, apparently the conventional wisdom is now wrong. Like really wrong. According to a Bloomberg report out this week, there’s been a steep rise in Gen-Y car buyers over the past five years:

They’ve zoomed past Gen X to become the second-largest group of new car buyers after their boomer parents. Millennials are starting to find jobs and relocating to the suburbs and smaller cities, where public transport is spotty.

Citing J.D. Power & Associates data, Bloomberg writes that in 2010, Millennials accounted for 18 percent of new car sales in the U.S.; in 2014, they were buying 27 percent of cars sold. This suggests that Millennials weren’t steering clear of cars because they preferred life as pedestrians, but rather because they couldn’t afford cars, what with the dismal job market and the Great Recession. Now that wages and employment are picking up for Millennials, they’re the fastest-growing market for auto-sales.

This reversal is causing some prognosticators to rethink their lofty expectations that Gen-Y could transform American driving habits for good. The do-over crowd includes Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, who co-wrote a piece called “The Cheapest Generation” in 2012 — one of many stories that created the conventional wisdom that Millennials just weren’t into driving — and wrote an update after the Bloomberg story, halfway backtracking: “So I’m less confident that our cheapest-generation prediction was right,” says Thompson. “But I’m not entirely convinced that it was wrong.”

The gist is that Millennials are still buying fewer cars than their parents — the heart of Thompson’s thesis — but now, they’ve leapfrogged Gen-X (which is a smaller generation), and are rising fast in market share.

Source: Derek Thompson/J.D. Power & Associates

Source: Derek Thompson/J.D. Power & Associates

The rise in car-buying correlates to other recent trends defying popular conventions held about Millennials, such as the growth of young people moving out of cities, says Thompson:

… we failed to anticipate the fierce undertow of the status quo. Young people are still buying cars, they’re still moving out to the suburbs, and they’re still looking to buy houses in the sunny swoosh that extends from the Carolinas, through Texas, and up into the northwest.

We don’t know yet if this millennial car-buying craze applies to Philadelphia. Throngs of millennials are still moving to the city, and Philly was one of the most car-free cities in America as of 2013 (more than one-third of all households didn’t own a car.) Then again, the same year Millennial car-buying shot up nationally, SEPTA ridership took a slight dip. SEPTA blamed that on bad weather, however, and maybe that’s all it was. Or maybe it was all the young people in shiny new whips? Probably not. There’s evidence that Southeast Pennsylvanians are driving less, even as drivers in the rest of the nation are driving more.