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Inside Perspective

Is The Car Culture Dying Out?

Mike McGlothlin
Feb 1, 2013
Photographers: Mike McGlothlin
I hate to say it, but at 28 years young, I feel like I’ve witnessed the height of the car culture come and go. I know I wasn’t around during the golden ages of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s—when muscle cars, cheap petroleum, and drive-thrus were a huge part of the American youth’s Friday and Saturday night—but I truly feel like I’ve seen something special come and go in my lifetime.
Photo 2/2   |   Diesels have a unique place in today’s car culture. While the diesel enthusiast population might be considered small, its demographic is strong: largely made up of hardworking, blue-collar folks from rural areas. And most importantly, the diesel community is constantly expanding.
It all hit me a few months ago as I was driving through the town I grew up in. I was headed west on a popular thoroughfare, which used to be a major hot spot for car, truck, and street bike enthusiasts. On any given Friday or Saturday night, spring through fall, the north and south sides of the road would be littered with impromptu car and truck shows taking place in empty parking lots. Dozens and dozens of people would pull in, park, socialize, and check out each other’s rides. Then I thought to myself, “That was 12 or 13 years ago. How many teenagers and college students do you know who are into cars?” And it was here that I found my answer. The car culture is lost on the new generation.
I blame the latest generation’s lack of interest in the automobile industry on several things, some more front and center than others. The biggest is technology, and the overuse and dependency on things like high-speed Internet, smartphones, and high-definition graphics video games. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I love cutting-edge technology. But while it’s made many aspects of our lives easier and more convenient, I believe it’s also made us less sociable, more introverted, and flat-out lazier.
We now live in an instant gratification world as well, where problems that can’t be fixed on the spot aren’t ever solved. It’s a throwaway culture. To me, it seems like today’s generation wouldn’t ever take the time to restore a car or truck for a year, or rebuild his or her own engine. The technological age is making us softer.
The cost of fuel has something to do with it—but not everything. When I turned 16, it wouldn’t have mattered if fuel was $10 a gallon—I’d still be driving my truck all over God’s creation. And I guarantee you that if I were just turning 16 tomorrow, my answer would be the same. But that’s just not the case with teenagers anymore. According to an environmental policy and sustainability expert at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (and as published in an April 2012 edition of the New York Times), “a growing proportion of 17- and 18-year-olds is not even bothering to get a driver’s license anymore.” I hope this isn’t true, but if the experts are conducting studies on the matter, it just might be.
I’m focusing on America’s car culture this month because a fading interest in muscle and sports cars won’t bode well for the diesel scene, either. They’re linked because it takes an enthusiast to keep this kind of niche alive. In our case, we need dieselheads to continue spreading the good word about compression ignition, and one of the best ways to do that is by conversing with the fading muscle car crowd, as well as all car lovers.
This editorial isn’t about trying to get younger people into cars or trucks, and in no way am I implying the need for energy independence, mass transportation, or electric-hybrid technology. That’s not it at all. It’s about preserving the American way of life: driving your own vehicle—a vehicle you feel is special—and one you enjoy driving every day. I’m optimistic in believing there will always be auto enthusiasts helping to keep our car and truck culture alive. I’m just sad to see the new generation paying it such little attention.
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