End of the car culture?

I confess – and I suspect a number of readers will regard this as suitable material for confession – I am a fan of the BBC television programme Top Gear. I love the sheer extravagance of the thing, and the political incorrectness, and its ability to elevate trivial pursuits to matters of prime importance. You see, while I now ride a bike quite regularly, I do also love cars. I always have, going right back to my first one, the glorified biscuit tin that was my Fiat 500 in 1972. Since then I have owned 19 cars, some of them true bangers held together by the grace of God, and some really snazzy vehicles that turned heads.

I even owned that Fiat 500 while I was a student. I should explain that I had been a bank employee before becoming a student, and the Fiat was a left-over from my banker days. Back then I was envied for having a car; not a single other student in my class owned one. But now, everything is different. Car parking is the constant crisis on every university campus, not because staff own too many, but because a large proportion of students drive them. A couple of years ago I even had to have a Mercedes S-Class clamped that was causing an obstruction in DCU, only to find that it was owned by a female student who had received it as a birthday present (an S-Class!!!) from her Daddy.

But is all that going to change? In the United States, it is reported that fewer of the so-called ‘Generation Y’of young people now own cars, and they rate them as less important and possibly even undesirable for environmental reasons. They use more public transport and manage to find sex appeal that doesn’t require four wheels and a loud engine.

So will my generation of motoring enthusiasts grow old huddled round a television watching Clarkson and the lads get up to their tricks ageing gracelessly? Will we come to be seen as mindless idiots that didn’t get on the righteous bandwagon of frugal transport means? Or will there be a new generation of technology-driven vehicles that don’t disturb the environment and have the wow factor? Gosh, I hope so. Just as long as people get over the need to park them all on university campuses.

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55 Comments on “End of the car culture?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    The cost in your halls is 450pcm. In the area, that quadrant of north Dublin, about 400pcm. While in Dunshaughlin on the N3, 700 for a three bed, or 230 pcm.
    And while I see little reason why you don’t charge those that are inside the M50 for parking. Those outside are doing little more than keeping a standard of civilisation and you shouldn’t fleece them.

  2. Perry Share Says:

    I say Vincent, that’s a ripper remark!

  3. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    I wonder has anybody else come across “transport orientated development”, planning urban areas around mass public transport, and cycling.

    Up to now, urban planning has been build around roads and motor vehicles, and look what it brought us; Urban Sprawl and tailbacks.


    • That is a great point: yes, our cities’ “scale” and format often are suited now for cars (as we know them now). I am excited about forward thinking work that sees built environments that are organic, flexible (to respond to new tech) and built first with bodies in mind.

  4. maddiepearl Says:

    I have never been attracted to a man because of a car. I will say it’s a good thing when I don’t have to drive them everywhere HA. But being able to find alternate forms of transportation is awesome, especially sine the drive may be lighter for me on my way to work. 😉

    http://maddiepearl.wordpress.com

  5. wadingacross Says:

    This Gen X’r won’t give up cars any time soon. In fact we’ve had to keep upgrading to larger vehicles to compliment our growing family – I know, how unPC. Good.

    I’ve probably gone thru around ten vehicles in the last twenty years of driving. My first car was a 1983 Volkswagen GTI. My dream car is a pre 74′ MGB (rubber bumpers are no good), though that keeps getting shelved.

    And for all of those Generation Y kiddos? You try living in an area where there’s not much – if any – public transportation. You need a car.

    I suspect the survey is skewed. The majority of Gen Y I doubt all live in highly urbanized areas with great public transportation access. And even if they do have access… how great is it? Much of the US is not built up like Europe, and much of the public transportation bites.

    I suspect that the Gen Y group will eventually come around on vehicles… or get eclipsed as moronic like the Baby Boomers have become. Environmentalism has become the new god, and it’s outright nincompoopery. Besideswhich, most of these vehicles that these twits are now driving little more than sardine cans… and are ugly.

    This generation’s Gremlins and Pintos… only with better gas mileage.

    Give me something with some weight on it so I don’t get crushed in an accident – though I do love me some old English sportscars… Ah, Triumphs, Austin Healy’s and MGs when cars were “real”.


    • My friend drives a 64 Ford and yes, there is little worry of accidents when we cruise in that…but we can look forward to new ways to avoid accidents: smart warning systems to alert drivers, steeringless cars (like the No Hands Across America project where the car traversed 98% of the US without hands on the wheel) and city networks that will allow these ‘hands free’ cars to ‘communicate’ with each other.
      (as an aside: I’m a Christian environmentalist and I’d only add that God is still God, its only that what we do to the land affects the lives of families throughout the world. I am accountable to the lives of my global brothers and sisters.)

  6. wadingacross Says:

    An addendum I forgot… I wonder how many of those Gen Y kids are actually still living at home, and instead just driving their parent’s cars? Gen Y is a slacker generation if I ever saw one. Stuck in front of video games, wanting free rides, while they chime, “Save the planet”, listening to their false prophet guru, algor.

  7. Sarah Says:

    I absolutely adore “Top Gear!” Glad to hear you enjoy it as well. And I hear you on the parking problem; the nearby UT-Austin has terrible parking congestion.

    As for the rest of your post…I think many people are shifting toward more gas-savvy vehicles; but in parts of America (especially rural parts), there will always be a need or want for big gas-guzzling cars, either as a luxury or to get construction or agricultural work done. Plus, sadly, public transportation just isn’t an option everywhere. When I lived in Cambridge, MA, I took the subway and buses; but here in Austin, the bus line doesn’t cover my neighborhood. But the city has some new transportation initiatives — Car2Go programs and a light rail that goes downtown — so I have hope for the future.

  8. Jornal do Whisky Says:

    Good! I don’t like cars. I drink.
    http://jornaldowhisky.wordpress.com/
    Cheers

  9. T. Caine Says:

    The U.S. has dug itself in pretty deep when it comes to auto-dependence, enough so that it will be chore to climb out that could take decades. Our cities are built around vehicular transport and the change to transit-oriented development is not fact or easy.

    All the same, we are making progress. Cities like New York continue to consider congestion pricing schemes that could drastically lower car use on an island that doesn’t need them. The rate at which we’re building farther away from urban centers is apparently slowing. Given level of technological connectivity, commuting to work at all is becoming less mandatory.

    “Wading Across” is right though. For most people who don’t hold efficiency as a priority worth striving for, they need to have another option presented to them and it has to be just as easy as driving. For most of the country, we can’t provide that yet. If anything our urban centers have the greatest chance of stemming car traffic in and out. Suburban settlements will be driving for a while.

  10. ryoko861 Says:

    Let me introduce myself.

    I’m Irene and I’m a Top Gearaholic.

    I can not get enough of that program!

    No, the car culture as we know it will always prevail because I for one will NOT jump on the Smart Car, Leaf, Cube, Fit, or any other eco fucking friendly piece of metal with wheels band wagon. I like my ’68 Mustang, gas guzzling Chrysler Sebring Convertible, and piss fast ’74 Corvette!

    And I think Clarkson, Hammond and May will agree.


  11. So much has been said of Gen Y, and in its time Gen X was under the same scrutiny. When the time comes for Gen Y to have their own resources and they also have the need to buy a car, they will worship their cars as much as any generation before – aligned with the contemporary trends.

    I am myself a late Gen X, early Gen Y (depending on the classification)… and I see that everyone still enjoys the idea of getting themselves a nice set of wheels.

  12. sittingpugs Says:

    But is all that going to change? In the United States, it is reported that fewer of the so-called ‘Generation Y’of young people now own cars, and they rate them as less important and possibly even undesirable for environmental reasons. They use more public transport and manage to find sex appeal that doesn’t require four wheels and a loud engine.

    I can’t think of a single Gen Y member that has been so utterly demythologized from the car as an icon or status symbol as to be indifferent to owning or not owning one. The advertising industry may disagree, but creating a campaign to make the consumer buy the car in the first place isn’t necessarily dependent on the consumer’s desire to have 24/7 access to a car of his or her tastes.

    I think an analysis of data regarding the average age of a newly licensed driver of the post-iPod generation would be more interesting. Over the last 5-10 yrs, has there been a significant increase in age? Controlling for state laws and alternate transportation options for various cities across the continental US, if that age has gone from 17 to 18 or 19, one could argue that these young ones aren’t equating getting a license as important a rite of passage anymore. Or even, a necessity.

    It just means you can’t be the designated driver.


  13. Maybe people are finally starting to live within their means. That would be a refreshing thought.

    I agree with T. Caine regarding auto-dependence…the US and Canada moreso (based on geography) are very auto-dependent. However, larger urban centres are attempting to provide alternatives for those who choose them – and they are improving. Until they improve however, car culture will still exist…just not at the same level as its heyday.

  14. urbannight Says:

    To many cities are still not bike friendly. I don’t think we will see an end to the car culture in the U.S. for some time to come.

    • wendymr Says:

      Well, another factor to remember, in the northern US and Canada, at any rate, is the weather. When you have snow on the ground for four or five months of the year, heavy snow- and ice-storms likely to strike at any time, and ploughs throwing snow up onto the side of the road, not to mention temperatures well below freezing and drivers who don’t modify their behaviour for weather conditions, who’s going to ride a bike?


  15. That’s an interesting article you linked to, but I suspect that the “car-less” phenomenon is temporary. Once we fully dig out of this recession, and those younger people start having families, things will change. Remember, people don’t get married as young as they used to.

  16. bradenbost Says:

    I saw the article on that yesterday! It’s a weird thought, for sure, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing . . . but let me offer an idea here that I think warrants discussion.

    “Generation Y” may cite things such as environmentalism as a reason for not getting a car, but is there also a hint of entitlement within that? What I mean is–how many of them (I should probably say us . . . though I’m arguably Gen X at 30) take public transportation for granted? In the end, I think the car companies have done this to themselves (especially American car companies), with over-inflated prices for products and parts that are designed to fail and be expensive to replace, and decreasing fuel efficiency for years, despite warnings for a very long time that $1-1.5/gallon gas wouldn’t last forever . . . but I think the discussion on the assumptions made by a younger generation that may actually demonstrate immaturity despite appearing to be responsible is an interesting and valid topic.

    And on the college campus thing–I drove my car from my college apartment to school every day for a year and always griped at how hard parking was to find. For a couple years after that, I drove my car two miles down the road to my job. Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest. :-O If I lived as far from work now as I did from campus then, I would walk every day without question. Funny how that works. (but then again, the weather is much more tolerable here than in the Midwest, in spite of the rain).

    http://bradenbost.wordpress.com

  17. wittywife Says:

    I don’t think Gen Y will give them up. Gen Y gets married later than Gen X did. All these Gen Y folks living in cities who rely on public transportation will soon learn that when you get married and have kids in the city, you NEED a car.

    Source: Me

    I came from a small town, and we had a two car family. Totally necessary. (I’m on the tail end of Gen X, btw.)

    When I moved to a major city, I already had one kiddo, but we made it work. Last year came baby #2, and all that went out the window. We now have one car. We’re currently looking to buy a second, since my husband has the car for his commute (and he picks up the kids from daycare with the car), and there’s no grocery store, etc, within walking distance from our house, which makes running errands a nightmare. It was fine before because I wasn’t carrying home groceries for four.

    Secondly, and as a side note, depending on the time of day, the subway in my city can cost $4.30 ONE WAY. Throw in the fact that last year they had an accident that killed 9 people, bus drivers routinely run red lights, buses routinely hit people, the infrastructure is crumbling, the trains break all time (I seriously had to get off three trains last week alone)? I’m ready to ditch public transportation anyway. And I think when these kiddos get a little older and are sick of dealing with the BS of public transportation and start having families, they’ll get cars too.


  18. This made me giggle. I am a 25 year old female and despite being your typical girlie girl, I absolutely LOVE Top Gear. I don’t care about what the care can do, but find it completely hilarious – the things they get up to! They make cars interesting.

    As for your old banger – I used to drive a Fiat PANDA with a shower radio stuck to the inside of the windscreen because the radio didn’t work.

    Haha.

    http://www.meandmybiro.wordpress.com


  19. Wait, didn’t Al Gore’s kid get stopped for doing 100+ miles in a Prius. There is proof you can have environmental safeguards and a hot rod all in one package. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  20. Melanie Killingsworth Says:

    I am a freelancing writer/videographer, and have ended up travelling quite a lot. I simply clamp the bike rack onto the (old, used) car, drive to the new town, then park the car and bike/bus everywhere, except occasionally when it’s raining cats and dogs or I feel like indulging.

    It would be great to ditch the car (and gas and insurance and maintenance) permanently, but trying to move from city to city via public transportation is difficult, and most cities’s public transportation systems are jokes. I missed an very important meeting across town when the bus was 40 minutes late, and decent rail systems are really only in DC and New York.

    Not to mention my permanent residence is in Wisconsin, where biking is sorely impractical 4 months out of the year (forget the sub-zero wind chill and treacherous conditions; the roads narrow by a few feet on account of the snow and only maybe Madison takes any consideration for bikers.)

    Maybe if I manage to settle down near a permanent placement/right on the right public transport line, but in America and her economy, the irony is only those with a secure, steady job can afford to give up the expense of a car.

  21. michael sicurello Says:

    The high tech wow factor modern vehicle you hope will appear.. is called a “bicycle”.

    Riding one gets you iron legs, sex appeal, environmental friendliness, practical transportation and an opportunity.. every day.. to transform the world.

    It doesn’t get any better than that!

  22. Perry Share Says:

    Gosh! (as we say around here) you’ve got a whole lot of new friends Ferdinand!

  23. Miranda Says:

    Great post!

    But I have to say; despite the lack of cars owned by Gen Yers, I think that enthusiasm will still be there.

    The great thing about cars and vehicles in general is how diverse they are. Just as we saw a condo boom in the recent years, it didn’t mean people were no longer buying stand-alone houses, it just meant there were more options available and people were realizing that.

    Car companies are opening their eyes and ears to the needs of the people and the environment, and electric and hydro is how the automotive world will diversify and keep the public’s interest.

    And it’s also shows like Top Gear that will keep the automotive intrigue alive, because (in all honesty) cars ARE all the same (mechanically, etc.) so it takes a Clarkson, or a Hammond or a May to make a “bland” machine interesting to the general public.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed – and if you ever yearn for something auto-related, check out my blog and I can guarantee you’ll get your fix.

    Drive on,
    – M.


  24. I also watch Top Gear and I had really cool cars in my life, a Chevy Blazer S10 was the first one, then a Jeep Cherokee and finally a Jaguar XJ with an extremely powerful engine. I loved the cars and I enjoyed them!

    But 2 years ago, I decided to become car free by choice.

    -For the money that I saved on gas, insurance, repairs and taxes, I could buy a yearly ticket for the rail and bus system.
    -Although some journeys take longer, I loose less time because I can read newspapers, books or do some work during the journey. Or just sleep.
    -And I plan my journeys better now. I don’t just drive to the supermarket for a pizza, but I plan what I need to buy for the next few days. I don’t drive to the library to pick up a book, but I make a list and go once a week to pick up 5 or 10. Being without a car has made me much more time-efficient.
    -I walk more so I am of course also much fitter.
    -And finally, it’s a good excuse if somebody invites you whom you don’t want to see (family, in-laws etc.): “Sorry, I don’t have a car, I can’t really make it.”

    Just give it a try!

    Andreas
    http://www.andreasmoser.wordpress.com

  25. S.D. Jen Says:

    I can understand why cars and driving is becoming less popular with succeeding generations.

    First there’s the whole thing with cars being environmentally-unfriendly (and environmentally-friendly cars like Prius being ‘uncool’ with young people). Then there’s restrictions being put on cars and driving such as the increase of speed cameras, strict driving laws, congestion tax, etc. which all make driving impossible to enjoy. And yes, there are also financial benefits that come with not owning a car such as not having to pay for gas, insurance and the car itself.

    The thing that’s bugging me with the car industry right now is that they’re serving the government, not car buyers and enthusiasts. CAFE regulations, unions (not the government but equally sleazy) and car makers struggling to survive have a profound effect on cars they build.

    Honda, for example, has lost its identity. In the 80’s Hondas were simple, compact, reliable and fun to drive. Now, Hondas (and Acuras) are vanilla machines: they’re big, safe, crammed with technology, but ultimately, boring. Each new model is simply an answer to something Toyota or its competitor made (ex.: Venza and Accord Crosstour). In that process Honda has lost the passion put into designing their cars. And with that, car enthusiasts become bored of Honda and its products. Yes, Honda’s still a best-seller but people need cars, so they go for whatever’s reliable and popular. But the lack of enthusiasm for new products have generally led to a lack of enthusiasm for what made cars great to begin with. Honda still has a large fan base but if Honda (and all other automakers) keep building plain-Jane appliances, car culture will die.

  26. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    Oil is about $90 a barrel at the moment, give or take. We have to assume that it could be something like $900 dollars a barrel (in today’s money) in 15-20 years time.

    We should plan accordingly. We import most of our oil anyway – so even if we get it wrong, we still get win out.


    • Just as a matter of interest, Kevin – why would you make that assumption? It flies in the face of all previous experience…

      • Kevin O'Brien Says:

        Essentially because I reckon it is a reasonably plausible scenario based on a combination of factors including Energy security, access to supplies and of course peak oil.
        I dont “expect” this outcome, but I feel we should be prepared for it. ( I picked $900 at random for expository purposes)

  27. kevin denny Says:

    Funny how the topics that seem to attract the most comments are the crimes & misdemeanors of cyclists,
    the possible end of car culture, car parking on campus…

  28. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    Here is a quote from “Future Files” by Richard Watson
    (slightly condensed)

    “Last century the car was important as it stood for freedom and mobility. But ask a teenager what symbolizes these ideals and they’d probably name the internet or the cellphone. So perhaps what will happen in the future is that our freedom and mobility become virtual”.


  29. Dont worry theirs always gonna be true Car enthusiasts Like us 😀 :]
    and if people prefer riding bikes or other methods of transportation then so be it. more Fuel for us >:D

  30. bmaparts Says:

    I believe the Car market is constantly evolving so their really is no boundaries or limits to what is impossible at the moment. I believe the Electric sports car is a big go at the moment and will definitely become more affordable as soon as all manufacturers become familiar with the technology. So this will provide a better cleaner environment for all of us in due time.

  31. thekarmamortgage Says:

    I have a nice car and two bikes, which I use more than my car. Being on my bike just feels so much more free and I kill two birds with one stone, get to work and exercise for the day. I also cut my commute in half, allowing for more free time to do things I actually want to do. It is also a great way to clear my mind at the end of the day. Also, even though I have extremely great credit and it was nearly impossible for me to get a loan for a car, so this might be some of the hold up for Gen Y’ers. All that being said, I love the status I feel in my car(shallow as that it is), the places it can bring me, and of course the speed and connection to the machine.

  32. teknophilia Says:

    I love top gear! I have been seeing the same trend, it seems like more and more, cars are losing their importance in our lives. It seems like the crazy and fantastic cars we used to see are being fazed out.


  33. The End of Car Culture? Man Get a life ..

  34. natinanorton Says:

    Interesting post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    I don’t think we’ll ever move entirely away from the gas powered vehicle (too many oil lobbyists), but as a non-car owner for many years now, I see better public transportation and community design as being a vital ingredient to saving the environment as well as to help create a healthier society.

    In America, where I’ve lived most of my life, due to urban sprawl and general laziness, people drive everywhere. In Ireland (where I’ve lived since 2005), however, owning a car is not only a pain in the ass (parking, insurance, etc.) but totally impractical because the city is so compact (at least in Cork). As a result, I just walk everywhere.

    Give people decent public transport and intelligent city planning and you’ll solve the problems with the environment and obesity at the same time!

    Natina

    http://humansareassholes.wordpress.com/

    • mconley80 Says:

      Wonderfully said. I’ve been forced to live without a car and mostly for legal reasons but I’ve come to see the addiction of automobiles, the hassle and the beauty of good old walking. Glad you’ve got a beautiful country to travel in.

  35. Mysteriousmystic Says:

    Hmm, quite an interesting post.
    In my opinion, the gas powered vehicles are still going to stick around for a while, especially in North America. In developing nations, many people still don’t own cars, but now as the world is aging and as gas powered cars become cheaper there is an increasing trend of these vehicles in the third world especially from countries like India, China or Japan. Having lived in Africa and now Canada, I have attained an intuitive perspective on the contrast between the west and the industrializing world. I’ve noticed that governments here are spending more and more on public transport and maybe this is why you notice the somewhat decreasing popularity of gas powered cars, however the public transit still appeals to only a few different classes of individuals, hence the government is trying to modernize it’s infrastructure to widen the target crowd. II still think it’s a little too early to notice an impact however.

    http://Mysteriousmystic.wordpress.com


  36. I think it is the end of deep study. Car culture requires time, patience, and moving away from the computer screen. Its analog and mechanical.
    We are now digital.

    But cars as simply a mode of transport – it will take a long time before we lose that.

  37. Sufism World Says:

    My opinion is – as long we have Roads then the Car shall live. The car in its self will go through many changes but will still have four wheels but the operator is still in debate, either controlled by human or GPS – trials already have started for the later.

    Top Gear for me has lost its touch, once where a car performance was tested to Max, has now crazy celebs driving around crashing caravans or driving a old modified 4×4 somewhere in the world where human life does not exist. Like either I’m going to have a caravan royal rumble or try to survive in an inhabitable land.

  38. GirlOpinion Says:

    I think owning a car is not the only basis of the importance of the vehicle. In our country, some people don’t own a car but this has not become a reason for us to think that it is not existing anymore.

  39. xanthalas Says:

    Check out this Internet TV show from Robert Llewellyn on Electric vehicles. It’s really interesting and shows that Gas-guzzling cars have low-carbon competition coming up fast. http://www.youtube.com/user/fullychargedshow

  40. grubbygirl Says:

    As a card-carrying member of generation Y, let me say this: There is nothing wrong with driving a nice car. Who doesn’t love seat warmers? However, your motor vehicle should be a mode of transportation, not a way to compensate for what you are lacking…under the hood. I discuss the implications of owning an overstated manmobile in my post “I feel like his license plate should say ‘Bad Daddy.'”

    http://grubbygirls.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/i-feel-like-his-license-plate-should-say-baddaddy/


  41. In Australia, with our largely spread out population, cars are simply essential, especially when the nearest town might be 300km away. So here at least, cars are still a very big part of our culture. A large proportion of teenagers have cars by the age of 18 or 19, and a fair amount have purchased a car cheap and done it up until they were old enough to drive. I suppose it depends on location too, as city kids are far less likely to purchase cars than country kids, and here in Australia there is a very large distinction between urban and rural…

  42. mythbroakia Says:

    splendidly remarked in a very apt way.you never really know with things transforming these days at an alarming rate.maybe the use of a car in these days of global warming may not be a good choice but compromises for something much better is a very nice answer.

  43. Leonard Says:

    I dread the thought of a future generations not knowing how to change out a simple garbage disposal because of a lack knowledge of the proper tools to use on nuts and bolts. Guys in my day, before garbage disposals were invented, learned the fine art of fixing things from having to do our own mechanical work on our lovely old automobiles (Cars for short)!!


  44. I don’t see the end of car culture in the near future. All these things are nothing but speculations.

  45. Sabs Says:

    The fear of car extinction has crossed my mind too. But technology will find a way I believe. Someday a car will be made that will appease both the world’s tree huggers and petrolheads. Or at least I really, really, really hope so. Otherwise, I guess I could learn to live with watching Clarkson and the gang get up to their tricks ageing gracelessly. I love those guys. 🙂


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