Saturday, November 26, 2011

Will Smartphones End the American Love Affair with the Automobile?

The iPhone 5 -- its design as alluring as a new Corvette?

American youth on the whole are simply not as enthralled with the automobile as kids from previous generations. That doesn't mean that there are not young people who love automobiles, new, used, and classic. But the numbers are not large, and that should worry the auto hobby in general, including those collectors with cars that some day will have to be sold.

But then there is the iPhone, seemingly more important than a drivers' license to more than a few teenagers. Why smartphones? Yesterday my son-in-law lost his, as he placed it on the top of a car that I drove off in to get motor oil at Pep-Boys! He just simply called to report it lost and claim insurance for the loss. Today a new phone will be in the mail to him.

Somehow, for these new generation of kids smartphones -- and other mobile devices -- convey status. Like my chronograph watch. The iPhone offers freedom and social reach, but does it really do that like a car? Can you really get away from your parents by using a smartphone? Can you foster a meaningful relationship by communicating electronically the way you can talk to someone in the front seat of a car or during a road trip?

One survey suggests that 46 percent of young people 18 to 24 prefer access to the internet rather than access to their own car. In 1978, 50% of 16 year olds obtained their first drivers' license; in 2008, only 30% did the same.

What this means is that cars increasingly need to come with innovative electrical gadgets, or with communicaton technologies built in. Whoever comes up with a killer app adaptable to the car will further a revolution that goes well beyond hybrid or electric propulsion.

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