Generation Z May Not Want To Own Cars. Can Automakers Woo Them In Other Ways?

Citi Bike users pedal through the streets of Manhattan. Some members of Generation Z, the younger generation following the millennials, are less inclined to own cars and lean more toward bike-sharing and ride-sharing services.
John Moore/Getty Images

Generation Z, the born between 1995 and 2012, and raised entirely within the digital age, are likely to mix things up even more than the Millennials. Gen Z-ers in more urban settings are even forgoing a traditional rite of passage: getting a driver’s license and then the car. Natalie Bettendorf, a Gen Z-er just coming of age, describes why she has no intention of getting a car. The Big Three U.S. automakers have taken notice, and ride-sharing applications are busy tracking the way we move. While rural areas of the country can’t easily be served by ride-sharing, Gen Z may be even more influential in pushing transit-oriented development and averting sprawl than Millennials.

“Ford started its own bike-sharing service recently. It wants to sell to people like me who have no interest in buying a car.

The Big Three U.S. automakers — Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors — say they are no longer just automakers. Every major car company is trying to make a move, whether it’s car-sharing, ride-hailing or self-driving.

GM has a new car-sharing app called Maven that it’s betting billions on. “We needed to create a new brand because this is really about access and not necessarily ownership,” says Peter Kosak, executive director of urban mobility for Maven.

Millennials are starting to buy cars in big numbers, The Associated Press reported last year. They just had a late start — mostly because of the Great Recession. Could the same thing happen for Gen Z?”

The Quiet Revolution Happening in the Suburbs

Suburbs first gained popularity for being everything a big city wasn’t. Now they want to be just like downtown. Photo by David Kidd

It is becoming more apparent that the suburban pattern of development created imbalances and burdens on society, the economy and the environment. In a very worthwhile article, Alan Greenblatt describes the revolution that is taking place and gaining steam. The most valuable and successful communities will be those that are developed around diverse town centers and transit. SmartGrowth and Sprawl Repair will be the key. 

“All over the country, suburbs are rushing to develop new mixed-use corridors, complete with dense, walkable shopping areas, often attached to a town hall or performing arts complex, as in Shirlington [VA], and usually surrounded by mid-rise apartment or condo buildings.

Mixed-use developments like these are becoming kind of a cliché in American metropolitan areas — but that doesn’t make them any less revolutionary.

“People who don’t have kids in their houses eat out a lot more than people who have kids,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the urban design program at Georgia Tech University and a leading authority on suburban evolution. “Suddenly,” she says, “you see the suburbs have way more restaurants than they used to, even bars and nightlife, which used to be anathema.”

“The downtown housing has gotten absurdly expensive in those cities that have revitalized,” says Dunham-Jones. This explains to a large extent the denser development taking shape in communities such as Shirlington and Rockville [MD].

An increasing number of developers want to appeal to people who prefer to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive for everything they want. “The suburbs that have gotten that are going to be the winners in the future,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute. “The way people work, shop and move around is changing. Those that have figured that out are going to prosper, and others are going to decline.”

“The privacy that the aging boomers really valued while raising their kids, now they’re beginning to question that,” Dunham-Jones says. “Do I really want to mow that big lawn? If they’re retired, suddenly that privacy can seem lonely.” Or, to put it another way, the ability to conduct much of one’s life on a cellphone may be generating a desire for in-person contact, perhaps the only thing the phone cannot deliver.

You’ll pay at least 25 percent more per square foot for housing in Reston, Va., which is built around a town center, than in nearby Sterling, a postwar cul-de-sac suburb that’s the same driving distance from Washington.

The most in-demand suburban developments are being built around transit, and this is true even where the share of commuters using transit is still low.”

Add Multi-Housing to Malfunctioning Suburbs

Incorporate multifamily housing into the fabric of malfunctioning suburbs–or the Boomers and Echo Boomers will move out, says Galina Tachieva, partner and director of town planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ). Tachieva describes the ways in which the burden rests on multifamily developers to play a leading role this century in reclaiming the sprawl-marred suburbs. “It is no surprise that numerous sprawl developments, particularly those in the far-flung exurbs, have recently suffered some of the highest rates of foreclosure. Many homes, and even entire subdivisions, have been abandoned,” says Tachieva, in an interview with MHN.

“Almost all idiosyncratic sprawl types will benefit radically from introducing multifamily development,” according to Tachieva, and she outlines the ways in which multifamily developers can accomplish the goal of redesigning these communities. An expert on transforming sprawl developments into human-scale, sustainable communities, Tachieva is the author of the just-released Sprawl Repair Manual (Island Press).

The transit-oriented, high-density town center will be used by the surrounding communities.