The Jigsaw Future of Car Ownership: NMA E-Newsletter #416

By Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director

Owning a car has always been one of those milestones in a person’s life. When we were kids we dreamed about what kind of car we would own in the future. We dreamed of dragging Main Street so we could visit our friends and crush on each other. We dreamed of driving on our very first out-of-town adventure without a parent present. A little older, we dreamed of taking our family on a long drive cross country to see the wilds of the West or the autumn colors of New England. Whatever the dream we had, we owned that magnificent machine that was all ours that would take us to glorious places.

Young people don’t seem to dream like that anymore. Perhaps they had it too easy with parents who drove them wherever and whenever they needed. Teenagers no longer drag Main Street since they now have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to communicate with each other whenever they want. My fourteen year old son recently told me he wasn’t sure he even wanted a driver’s license. When I was fourteen, that thought would have never occurred to me. 

Let’s face it, owning a car is expensive. To buy or lease a car, you need either a good-sized down payment or a terrific trade in. Then there is the monthly payment, auto insurance, yearly tags and fees. All of this needs to be in place before you sit in your car and drive. Driving costs include fuel with the inherent gas taxes, toll fees, parking and maintenance. I recently tried to replace a headlamp in my car and was unable to do it myself due to the complexity of the engine. Cost me $40.00 to have a local mechanic put it in. New cars now are so complex and connected that mere mortals can barely put oil in the engine anymore.

What if you are required to get that yearly emissions test and your car does not pass inspection?

What if your car breaks down and unfortunately the tow fees cost more than the repair?

What if you receive a traffic ticket and the city wants $490 which is the going rate in California for several types of moving violations?

Driver’s education is no longer part of the school curriculum and now a hopeful driver has to attend driving school for a fee that can be out of reach for many. Young people are finding they cannot afford to drive and some adults can no longer either. If you live in the country or have no public transportation options, you have no option but to drive or move. 

By 2025, the City of Helsinki, Finland plans to have no car ownership at all. Helsinki has a metro population of 1.6 million people and is frequently considered one of the top 10 most livable cities in the world. Depending on how this works out in Helsinki, officials in Finland (population of 5.4 million with a density of 17 inhabitants per square kilometer) plan to roll out this non-car ownership scheme to the rest of the country. Of course, the Finns will still be mobile and I can imagine would use all the mobility options open to them such as walking, biking, bus service, public transportation, carsharing and ridesharing.

Having lived in Germany for nearly 12 years, I cannot imagine Germans giving up car ownership. Just like their home, their car is their kingdom and they take great pride in driving and caring for their vehicles.

American car owners have a similar attitude. We generally love to drive except when caught in a grinding commute that allows us to only stop and start. The open road always beckons us to drive and we Americans do so in droves. 

As car owners, we have so many options now.  We can buy large cars, small cars, for city-driving-only cars, electric cars, hybrid cars, hydrogen fueled cars. But what about used cars? Old cars? Classic cars? Paris (and some American cities) has banned old cars from the inner city due to emissions. Could the same ban occur in all urban areas of the United States in the future?

As ridesharing and carsharing take hold, will giving up owning a car be the same as giving up your phone land line when you realize you no longer need it since you have a personal cell phone in your pocket or purse?  Instead of ownership, would you become a part of a car cooperative or have a yearly subscription to a ridesharing or carsharing service or both? The idea that we would no longer have to do anything with a car except drive or ride could be quite appealing to many.

The idea of not owning or leasing your OWN car for your own personal use anytime you want seems like a rather difficult concept for many of us. For younger people like my son, the concept of owning or leasing a car for your own personal use also seems rather difficult.

All I can say for now, I still own a car and have no plans of changing that paradigm any time soon. My son will have to figure out this one for himself. 

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