Teenagers prefer smartphones to cars, according to research firm Gartner, highlighting the impact of technology on kids and the auto industry’s future challenges.
The study found 46 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 prefer access to the Internet over access to their own car, and that teens drive less overall today than they did in past generations. Comparatively, only 15 percent of baby boomers said they would choose a mobile device over an automobile.
The advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter is likely responsible, as they create an interactive, fun world that’s accessible anytime, from almost anywhere. For teenagers who want to stay connected to their friends, social networks provides an ideal platform for communication.
Public transportation and hitching rides from parents also give teenagers more time to stay connected to their social world via their smartphones, making driving seem an unnecessary hassle that interrupts their social life.
Thilo Koslowski, lead automotive analyst for Gartner, said, “Mobile devices, gadgets and the Internet are becoming must-have lifestyle products that convey status,” and devices “offer a degree of freedom and social reach that previously only the automobile offered.”
To keep up with the trend, the auto industry has gradually begun integrating smartphone-type features like built-in GPS devices, Bluetooth, and iPod docks into their newest car models. In the future, auto makers may increase such features in hopes of making cars more of a “must have” for teens.
“We are not looking at this to ask how we can get teens to buy a car versus an iPhone,” says K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader of open innovation at Ford. “Instead, the car has to become more than just a car. It has to become an experience.”
Parents, meanwhile, may sleep a little easier knowing their kids are at home and not out engaging in dangerous behaviors like texting while driving. The trend may also be easier on the family finances, as parents won’t be pressured to buy an expensive automobile for their teens.
However, concerns have been raised about whether social networking can ever truly replace face-to-face social interaction. Teens need a balance of online interaction and real time hanging out with friends. The balance can be difficult to attain, since the lure of social networks can be all-consuming.
The auto industry hopes the open road still holds a classic allure, but how teens navigate that road may change in the near future. Automatic Foursquare check-ins and voice recognition systems are already being tested in cars, marking a new trajectory for teens and the auto industry alike.