Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Decline of the Car as a Status Symbol

Could it be that simple? Many of the problems facing us today go away when one simple thing happens - we no longer believe our status/self-worth/image/attractiveness/sexiness and place in the world is determined by the car we drive. That simple change will positively effect everything from global warming to the world economy.

In Japan it is becoming more common for young people to get around the city by hopping on a skateboard or riding commuter trains. Do they dream of the day when they have their own car? Actually, no.

In an article called "The Demotorization of Japan" Yuri Kageyama says that for many Japanese of this generation owning a car is more trouble than it's worth, especially in a congested city where monthly parking runs as much as $330, and gas costs $3.50 a gallon.

Automakers have dubbed this trend “kuruma banare,” or “demotorization” which is a 180 degree turn from earlier generations of Japanese who viewed car ownership as a status symbol. The trend is worrying Japan's auto executives, who fear the nation's love affair with the auto may be coming to an end.

Cars are being eclipsed by communication tools like personal computers and mobile phones. The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association predicts auto sales in Japan will fall to 4.86 million in 2009 — the first time below 5 million in more than three decades. This year, sales are projected at 5.11 million, the worst since 1980.

Vehicle sales in Japan peaked at 7.78 million vehicles in 1990 during Japan's “bubble” economy followed by a decade-long slowdown, which inhibited consumer spending and sent car sales on a decline. A surge in gas prices, which has subsided in recent weeks, also eroded sales. Sound familiar?

Changing our values based on cars will happen cumulatively over time and won't happen overnight. Auto companies will pull out all stops to keep convincing us our social status will be damaged unless we drive large, expensive, and destructive cars. We can expect to see more ads showing people driving illegally and unsafely on mountain roads and savaging natural landscapes with their "rugged" over-sized vehicles.

More and more of the next generation see cars as nothing more than a tool, much like a vacuum cleaner, not a reflection of their identity, tastes or income level. American's still feel their self-worth depends on their choice of car and their choice to drive rather than walk, bike or use public transportation. Today, anything but the private automobile is seen as flaky and weird (like the image at top). Soon, establishing your identity through your car will be as fashionable as smoking, sexism, and boom boxes.

Click on the heading above to read Kageyama's complete article.

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