As for Gen-X, they're also taking a back seat to Boomers, according to UMTRI. They accounted for 29 percent of U.S. new vehicle purchases as recently as 2007, but by 2011 that had dipped to just 22 percent. On the other hand, buyers between the age of 55 to 64 saw their share of the new vehicle market surge from 18 percent to 23 percent during the same period.
The numbers might come as a surprise to those in the automotive marketing and advertising communities who have fixed their sights on Millennials, with a growing share of industry dollars targeting them through favored outlets such as Facebook and other social media.
As to why Generations-X and –Y aren't a more significant force, researchers point to a number of factors. For one thing, younger consumers were particularly hard hit by the deep U.S. recession, employment among Millennials still lagging the American workforce as a whole.
Meanwhile, another recent study by the University of Michigan found that the newest generation of consumers are far more likely than older Americans to delay getting a driver's license—or skipping that rite of passage entirely. Less than 70 percent of 19-year-olds surveyed last year had obtained a license, the lowest figure in nearly three decades.
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"The big question," according to researcher Sivak, is whether this trend is going to continue.
There are several trends that should give pause to automotive planners. Whether by choice or through financial reality, the number of American households without a car has doubled over the past two decades—and is now approaching 10 percent, according to a separate study by CNW Marketing released last month.
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Noting that this figure is up from just 5.7 percent as recently as 1991, CNW research director Art Spinella noted, "While the recession was in large part responsible for the latest spurt, the trend was already clear, a growing number of Americans felt they didn't need or want a personal car."
The numbers reflect a growing shift towards urban living among Millennials, many of whom find they can live without owning a car in the city—or fill the occasional need for a vehicle through a car-sharing service.
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