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STORIESOFOFA A STORIES CHANGINGCAR CAR CHANGING CULTURE,ASASTOLD TOLD CULTURE, BY THOSE WHO BYARE THOSE WHO LIVING AREIT LIVING NOW IT NOW
Amy Shore, 25, Photographer
Amy Shore, 25, Photographer
GUEST COLUMN BY MAX PRINCE
Relax, People: Millennials and the Future of Cars
WE LIVE IN A CHARMED and uncertain time for motorized travel. It’s hardly news that the modern car is faster, safer and more efficient than ever. It’s also hardly news that the modern car is on its way out, set to be replaced by some kind of engineless, self-navigating form of mobility before this century is over. Depending on your viewpoint, the existence of a mass-produced coupe with 707 hp is either evidence of a golden era or Rome’s last days. Maybe a little of both. This, understandably, has us feeling torn—caught between familiarity and progress, and equally afraid of both. Throw in the unstoppable force that is technology, a little human volatility and, yes, millennials—a generation we’ve been told over and over cannot be reasoned with or explained—and anything seems possible. Cargo pants are making a comeback. Donald Trump might be president. It makes you wonder when somebody last checked to make sure the Earth was actually round. Fashion is cyclical, and some jokes are self-explanatory, so let’s focus on demystifying millennials. The notion that 20-somethings are killing the automobile mostly traces its origins to “The Cheapest Generation,” a 2012 article published by The Atlantic. It arrived at a time when auto sales were lagging, and the sharing economy appeared to be growing exponentially. The story’s authors, Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann, posed a simple question: “What if millennials’ aversion to car-buying isn’t a temporary side effect of the recession, but part of a permanent generational shift in tastes and spending habits?” Then young people would urbanize en masse, renting instead of buying. Zipcar, and the rest of the sharing economy, would serve as a replacement for the auto industry,
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which would in turn suffocate. Smartphones, our pricey little backlit portals to everything, would replace cars in the metasphere, taking us exciting places. The new world order imagined by Thompson and Weissmann wasn’t preposterous. Turns out it was just wrong. Four years after “The Cheapest Generation,” millennials look … a lot like everybody else. Eighty-five percent say they have a dream car. Seventy-two percent would rather give up social media than their driver’s license for a week. One in five self-identify as enthusiasts. And the auto industry? Healthy. Fat, actually. Heading toward record sales. And millennials now account for more than one-quarter of the market. That’s second only to boomers and more than Gen X. This, in spite of crippling student debt and wage stagnation, and smartphones and the sharing economy and everything else. Which is to say that millennials carry on the automobile’s proudest and most sacred tradition: the indefensible purchase. What’s interesting is how easily we bought into the car-hating youth misnomer. The idea was like a rash. It pustulated all over The New York Times and The Washington Post and inside Detroit Three boardrooms, a true multiyear furor. Sure, economic circumstance made it seem rational. But car culture—the American kind, in particular—has never let rational thought get in its way. And yet the imminent demise seemed entirely believable, taken as received wisdom, as if the other shoe had finally dropped. That’s indicative of something larger, a lurking truism. The problem isn’t economic trends or a generational divide. The problem is that the car itself is becoming indefensible. After all, how do you defend killing 40,000 Americans every year? Defend a machine that annu-
Jordan Engelhardt (see our “Secret People” feature starting on page 8) instructs future car buffs, who, despite what you’ve heard, actually do exist!
ally injures or maims one in every hundred citizens? That denies access to the deaf and blind and the elderly? That saps productivity enough to suck $3.56 billion from the economy each day? That simultaneously eats away at our most precious finite resources: time and physical space and nature? In the past, we’ve gotten away with cars on the basis of ignorance. Layer on the Band-Aids, take the lead out of fuel and add catalytic converters and more airbags, then call it squared. But not now, not anymore. Not when technology offers real and permanent solutions. Cars move on one trajectory, and sustainability moves on another. Our lifetime just happens to exist on the fault line. The real issue is a looming moral imperative, and the temptation is to fight it. Keep trying square-peground-hole four wheels and a motor
UND E R T HE H O O D \\ DIGITAL \\ CULTURE \\ EVENTS
AUTOWEEK TEAMS WITH NISSAN FOR GREAT CAUSE
RANDY MICHAEL KORWIN; DOUG GEALY
People’s Choice Auburn
until it reaches an ideal form. Faster, safer, more efficient. But you have to wonder about the endgame. Great cars are a prism for the people who create them, and ideal cars are agreeable, silent and entirely non-lethal. If you’ve driven a great car and have also met a person, you know these two concepts can’t be reconciled. The alternative is to embrace whatever’s next. Work on protecting the best parts of gasoline culture and then become, as Bruce Lee would say, like water. Engineless, self-navigating mobility is for philistines, but we’re a long way from that. In between here and there, the path is lined with great debates and paradigm shifts. Interesting people. Mortal danger. We’ll get to have our minds blown, bask in alien weirdness. Bring it on, I say. Not because new is better, or because of smartphones or road fatalities, but because
cars are becoming largely iterative. They’re different versions of the same answer, and increasingly less interesting ones. The upshot is now we get to start asking more questions. Isn’t that the whole point? In the meantime, maybe give the doomsday rhetoric a rest. This thing won’t last forever; it was never meant to. So stop worrying. Instead, get out and enjoy it. Light off a big engine and go. Get lost. Burn some fuel and have a little fun. Mostly, just lighten up; after all, we are living in a golden era. I mean, seriously, have you driven a Hellcat yet? The Romans must’ve thrown some epic parties there at the end. c
Max Prince is a 26-year-old freelance writer living in Brooklyn. He'd gladly pay you Tuesday for something widebody and air-cooled today.
AUTOWEEK AGAIN PARTICIPATED IN the Chukkers for Charity polo match, held Sept. 10 in Nashville. Sponsored by Nissan, this 20th anniversary event also boasts a car show. Taking the Top Horsepower/People’s Choice Award was Debby Curtiss’ 1931 Auburn 98-8-A four-door phaeton; grabbing the Autoweek Publisher’s Pick was a noncar: Bob Selph’s 1933 Harley Davidson VC. In the last two decades, Chukkers for Charity has raised more than $2 million to support the Rochelle Center and Saddle Up!, the Nashville area’s oldest and biggest recreational therapeutic riding program.
GET YOUR 30 & UNDER FREE DOWNLOAD TODAY TO SHOW HOW excited we are about our annual 30 & Under issue, we are offering a free download of it. This way, you can share Autoweek with your friends and family and keep your own copy! We hand-picked each story, hoping to offer you a unique car-world perspective. Get the free download at autoweek.com/Youth Our next issue, the Buyer’s Guide, is Oct. 31. Head over to autoweek.com for all
the news and reviews in the meantime.
OCTOBER 3, 2016 AUTOWEEK 7
JORDAN ENGELHARDT was the last hope for Lyons Township High School’s flagging shop class, and he knew it. When the La Grange, Illinois, school hired the energetic, engaging natural seven years ago, the program was about to go the way of so many hands-on automotive tech classes in America; there weren’t enough students to run a full slate of classes. Equipment—
and energy—was sorely lacking. But when we talked to him recently, there were students hanging around well after the final bell rang just to get extra time on projects, which run from routine brake jobs and oil changes to an upcoming Lamborghini Aventador go-kart (we’re especially curious about that one). Student demand for classes has exploded. Is there any better testament to his success?
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RANDY MICHAEL KORWIN (2)
JORDAN ENGELHARDT, 29
Somewhat surprisingly, Engelhardt has had no trouble selling his program to school administrators, parents or students, belying the notion that kids are afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. That his classes set students on the path to pursuing degrees in automotive fields (and, incidentally, leave them well prepared to enter the workforce right out of high school) certainly doesn’t hurt Engelhardt’s cause, but it’s his passion—and the passion he fosters in his students—that carries the day.
Stories: "Millennials and the Future of Cars", Jason Engelhardt Featurette.