DETROIT--As smartphones, tablets, and other sophisticated electronic devices become ubiquitous, automakers worry that young people may be more interested in the newest gadget than in owning a new car.
In a panel discussion last week at the Automotive News Green Car Conference, several players on the front lines of developing new cars and light trucks said vehicle connectivity is important in making vehicles more attractive to young drivers.
Bill Reinert, national alternative fuel vehicle manager at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said the number of people aged 16 to 21 who are eligible for a driver's license, but who choose not to get one, is increasing.
"The love affair of when you stand in front of a Chevy dealer and wait for them to take the butcher's paper off" the showroom windows to reveal a new model, "as I used to do with my dad, those days are gone," Reinert said.
Manuel Sattig, communications manager for BMW's Project i, said interest in driving differs based on where young people live.
"If you consider younger people who live in Tokyo, they might not be as interested in actually owning a new vehicle as much as being mobile," Sattig said. "If you look at Los Angeles, for example, if you turn 16 you can hardly wait to get your driver's license and to get a car because it's needed to get around Los Angeles, not like in Tokyo."
Sattig said that car-sharing programs might be a viable alternative for drivers in urban areas who want the mobility that owning a car affords them, but don't actually want to own a vehicle.
Paul Wilbur, CEO of electric carmaker Aptera, warned that as technology has become more prevalent, automobiles have become one of the few places where people can't use their smart technology to its fullest.
"The iPhone is established," he said. "To the Gen Y folks, the issue is that they've become in love with the technology, and now they get in the car and they don't have their technology anymore. That can't be."
Wilbur said the experience of using apps on a smart phone needs to be replicated safely and seamlessly for drivers.
"If you like Brooks Brothers suits and you drive by a Brooks Brothers store and you coded [into the car previously] that you like Brooks Brothers--boom," Wilbur said. "You drive by the store and the smart app pops up that there's a 50 percent sale on suits; you turn around and drive in."
(Source: Automotive News)