In yesterday’s New York Times, writer Amy Chozick described General Motors efforts to reach younger buyers. She reported that cars just aren’t as relevant or desired to them today, as they were to past generations. Only 46% of those 19 and younger have driver’s licenses, compared to 64% in 1998, the article explains.
Through what GM is experiencing, the article portends the greater crisis national parks are facing as today’s generation quickly abandons past “givens” such as the youthful aspiration to own a car. If owning an automobile is less important to youth today, how important in the future will less significant things to youth be, such as visiting or supporting national parks?
Chozick writes, “Automakers are realizing that if they do not adjust to changing youth tastes, they ‘risk becoming the dad at the middle school dance.’” Ross Martin, an MTV consultant to GM was quoted as saying, “How do you imbed the voice of a generation in a company the size of GM? It’s like moving a crater.” Similar exasperation was voiced by youth speakers at America’s Summit on National Parks in January, when they urged National Park Service leaders to transform the NPS so that it is able to adapt as quickly as their generation does.
The Times reported that in a survey of 3,000 millennials (born between 1981 and 2000), not a single automobile brand ranked among the top ten brands chosen, “lagging far behind companies like Google and Nike.” Cars are still essential, Chozick wrote, but they have fallen in importance to younger generations. If the NPS arrowhead were similarly evaluated by millennials, where would it rank, if at all? Likely, most youth would not know it other than by the words National Park Service imprinted on it.
What’s unsettling is that this change has happened so rapidly, driven by social media and their agents (including devices). It has transformed how people interact, what they do, where they go and why they don’t go certain places. Their world is their network and the information that vibrates within it. In the ’70s and ’80s, the outdoors and national parks were places that youth connected, but today teenagers and 20-somethings are reluctant to leave the places familiar to them. Chozick’s article says the auto industry is responding by even changing the test drive, “since young consumers find riding in a car with a stranger” to be “creepy.”
What is it we don’t know about millennials and why they don’t visit parks and what is needed to change that so that parks remain relevant into the future? Perhaps the machinations that the auto industry is experiencing today is an alarm to be heard by the national parks.