Real Cars, Toy Cars and the End of Driving As We Know It

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Automobile company CEO's know they have to change to meet the times, which leads to the question: Do toy automobile company CEO's know it as well?

I can vividly remember the anticipation I felt as my fifteenth birthday approached. I was going to be able to get a license and be free (with some restrictions by my father) to go where I wanted. In retrospect, I believe it was a bigger day for me than turning twenty-one.

That was then and this is now and today's fifteen-year-olds could, apparently, care less about getting a license or driving. Those securing drivers licenses at the age of sixteen have dropped by 50% since the 1980s. Those in their twenties don't particularly want to drive either. As a result, carmakers are getting very concerned because new car sales are in decline.

Here are just some of the reasons cited:

  • The rise of Uber, Lyft and other ride services.
  • The coming ascent of driverless cars.
  • The popularity of alternative forms of urban travel (think electric scooters).
  • The decision by Detroit to price out young drivers by stopping the production of low-priced introductory vehicles like Ford's Fiesta and Chevrolet'sCruze. (By the way, Japanese carmakers are going in the opposite direction and you get this feeling that they and not Detroit are right).
  • The rise in light rail systems.
  • The ability to shop without a car via mobile devices.
  • Those who came of age during the Great Recession are very careful with their money.

Looking at those factors, you can look through your windshield and clearly see the end of America's highway culture looming on the horizon. Automobile company CEO's know they have to change to meet the times, which leads to the question: Do toy automobile company CEO's know it as well?

As I see it, the decline in car culture will also manifest in children buying fewer toy cars. That old notion of almost tribal loyalty to a particular car brand ("my dad is a Chevy man" or "my dad only drives Fords") is long gone. NASCAR, the racing home of the American car brand, is struggling with sharply decreased attendance).

It was the love of driving and loyalty to a car brand that drove the popularity of the first Matchbox cars and, later, Hot Wheels. Will children who do not aspire to drive or care what car their parents drive (because their parents don't particularly care) extend their disdain to toy car purchases?

Do you agree or disagree that we are entering a post-automobile age? If you agree, what do you think popular toy car brands should be doing to accommodate a world in which driving is far less important to parent and child?

One thought

  1. I disagree. To those of us who live in or near big cities (the metropolitan elites who dominate most media coverage) it might seem as if we are entering a post-automotive age. But outside the big cities there are few opportunities for public transport. People love driving and light truck sales have taken off in recent years. The toy industry should keep in mind that the Ford F-Series is the number 1 selling vehicle in the US, followed by two other pickups, Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram.

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