Car Ownership Becoming Less Important Than Mobility

For Americans of a certain age, owning a car is as necessary to life as breathing. Okay, almost.

And that is still mostly true. Overall, U.S. consumers rely on vehicle ownership as their primary mode of transportation, and 81% say they love the freedom that owning a car gives them, while 89% cite convenience as a primary reason to own a car.

However, when researchers at Cox Automotive surveyed 1,250 U.S. consumers recently, they found that mobility is necessary but owning a vehicle is not. More than half (57%) of urban consumers said that mobility is more important than ownership, a jump of 13 percentage points from a similar survey done in 2015. When the survey results are broken down by age group, the results are even more telling about the future of car ownership.

More than half (55%) of Generation Z (12 to 22 years old) and 45% of millennials (23 to 36 years old) say that mobility is more important than owning a vehicle, compared to 34% of Generation X (37 to 53 years old) and 28% of baby boomers (54 to 72 years old).

Younger consumers are more likely to be aware of and use recent mobility programs like ride-hailing (Uber, Lyft), car-sharing and car subscription services. A total of 88% of U.S. consumers are aware of ride-hailing services and more than half of millennials use these services.

Consumers are less aware of car-sharing services (54%) although 25% of millennials have used this service as well. Just 44% of urban consumers say that car sharing is accessible, compared to 85% who find it easy to use ride-hailing services.

Car subscription deals from automakers like Volvo, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche is the newest wrinkle in providing mobility, and only 25% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 64 have heard of it. It is most attractive to young males and to new car buyers (10%) who said they would consider a subscription service for the next vehicle. The key feature is getting the newest technology while flexibility, worry-free maintenance and the ability to exchange vehicles also figure in the calculation.

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox’s Autotrader division, said:

Private ownership still dominates the automotive landscape, but options like ride-hailing and subscription programs are increasingly popular with young urban dwellers. The trendline for these programs could drastically alter this industry over the next five to 10 years.

Automakers and dealers are beginning to pay attention to the shift toward mobility and away from ownership. Ride-hailing may be a negative for dealers and carmakers, but car-sharing and subscriptions could act as a counterweight. How dealers and automakers respond to growing awareness and availability of on-demand transportation options may determine who survives and who is roadkill.