Why young people are falling out of love with cars

A traffic jam in Geneva: perhaps another reason why young people here show less interest in cars Keystone
This content was published on March 13, 2017

Geneva attracts global attention for its motor show currently underway, but fewer and fewer young adults in Geneva itself are showing an interest in cars.

The number of young adults getting their licence is down and their interest in the latest models is reflected in the percentage of people aged 18-34 visiting the Geneva show. Their numbers have fallen from 50% of the total in 2006 to 46% in 2016.

According to Vincent Kaufmann, a mobility expert at Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), a combination of factors - from improved public transport to the rising costs of car ownership and distractions like mobile phones and the internet - have led to a ‘major disenchantment’ with cars among the under-25s.

The professor has just completed a survey in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and for the Japanese carmaker Toyota looking at whether the proportion of young Europeans getting their licence is dropping off, as it is in Japan.

For Kaufmann the results are clear: teenagers and twentysomethings in European towns and cities are increasingly reluctant to get behind the wheel.

“The use of cars by young people in urban areas and the percentage of young people with driving licences have dropped considerably over the past ten years,” he told

In Switzerland this is also the case for its bigger towns and cities. For example, in canton Geneva, home to the Geneva International Motor Show currently underway, the proportion of under-25s getting their licence has fallen from 75% 15 years ago to 65%, he added.

A mini straw poll of Geneva youngsters seemed to back up this urban trend.

So why are urban youngsters getting turned off by the car?

“Some consider owing their own car as something old-fashioned or uncool. Some criticize cars as being a major source of pollution, while others are put off by the cost, especially the cost of learning in Switzerland – over CHF1,000 – and insurance,” said Kaufmann.

But other factors come into play. Some suggest that smartphones have replaced cars as the must-have status symbol.

Kaufmann concurred: “Some youngsters say they want to do other things like using their phones when they are making a journey and don’t want to waste time. They say they can’t do that when driving in a car,” he noted.

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