German study finds next generation spending less time behind the wheel

In the land that gave us BMW, Mercedes-Benz and the Volkswagen, a new study has discovered the next generation of German youth are driving less and riding public transit more. It is believed, nevertheless, they are not eschewing personal mobility for a greener lifestyle but delaying one of life’s more expensive purchases until after college, just as American students are worrying about paying off their student loans.

"The generation aged under 30 drives cars less than it used to," said Martin Kagerbauer, of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT.L), where researchers examined the travel methods of 1500 people during a certain week every fall since 1994."This generation also seems to be taking driving tests and buying cars later."

The study was reported by Natalia Drozdiak writing for Reuters in Berlin just today.

With sales totaling 315 billion euros in 2010, the auto industry is an intrinsic part of the German, if not the entire European economy. German auto manufacturers built roughly 12.7 million cars worldwide last year with 709,000 employees within country, a full seventh of the entire German labor pool.

The survey indicated German 18 to 30-year-olds drive 2.4 miles less a week as compared to 1995, while their weekly reliance on public transport has increased by nearly 10 miles per week over the same period of time.

Kagerbauer credits greatly enhanced public transport in cities, the emergence of car sharing/bike rentals as well as internet shopping for the reasons young drivers spend less time behind the wheel.

Thies Hansen, 26, a student at Humboldt University in Berlin, likes traveling by bike and train. "It's not for ecological reasons or anything -- driving a car is just really expensive and as a student I can't afford it," he said. He does not possess a driver's license or own a car, which frees him from insurance premiums as well.

Eckehart Rotter, a spokesman for the German Automotive Industry Association, is not troubled by the fact fewer young drivers may have on the the car industry’s future. "More and more young people are completing their degrees and don't need cars while they are living in university towns -- it's not that we are losing clientele, they are just buying at an older age," Rotter concluded.

It will be interesting to see if there is an American study measuring the same patterns. Individual mobility is both more necessary and traditional here as compared to Europe, but the current economy, our own improving public transit, the advent of car sharing, ZipCar and the environmental movement could be changing the habits of American youth as well.

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