Frankly … posthuman Does the new generation want a car at all nowadays?

How would Generation Z like to move around in the future? As a member of this generation, our columnist Aya Jaff explains what’s important to her, and why electric vehicles might not be the answer.

By Aya Jaff

1950s photo showing a father posing with his young daughter in front of a vintage car The car as a modern family must-have. Is that still the case today? | © picture alliance / Bildagentur-online/Blend Images | Blend Images/PBNJ Property releaseoductions
An electric Volkswagen ID.3 for the same price as a Golf. A Tesla Model 3 that costs as much as a BMW 3 Series. A Renault Zoe electric subcompact whose monthly lease payment might equal a nice dinner for two in Paris … sounds affordable to me. But even a few years ago I thought electric cars were only for really wealthy people. Something that isn’t necessarily practical but that you buy for reasons of conviction and prestige. However that’s changed a lot in recent years. As car sales collapsed in Europe because of the pandemic, one category grew rapidly: electric vehicles. One reason is that purchase prices in Europe are coming remarkably close to the prices for cars with petrol or diesel engines.

We’re on an accelerated timeline

Of course these prices for e-cars are only possible because the state subsidises them so heavily. But at the end of the day, consumers just look at the price tag. Where – depending on which country is funding the subsidy – more than 10 000 US dollars can be cut from the final price. Carmakers are offering deals on electric cars to meet stricter European Union regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. In Germany, an electric Renault Zoe can be leased for 139 Euro per month, or 164 US dollars.
As electric cars become more mainstream, the automobile industry is rapidly approaching the tipping point when, even without subsidies, it will be as cheap, and maybe cheaper, to own a plug-in hybrid vehicle – in other words one that burns fossil fuels and at the same time has an electric motor. The car manufacturer that reaches price parity first may be positioned to dominate the segment.
A few years ago, industry experts expected that 2025 would be the turning point. But technology is advancing faster than expected, and could be poised for a quantum leap. Hui Zhang, managing director in Germany of NIO, a Chinese electric carmaker with global ambitions, said he thought parity could be achieved in 2023. Venkat Viswanathan, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who closely follows the industry, is more cautious. But he said: “We are already on a very accelerated timeline. If you asked anyone in 2010 whether we would have price parity by 2025, they would have said that was impossible.” 

A mobility turning point in real life

But does my generation, Generation Z, still need and want a car at all? Cars may still be relevant, but their significance is undergoing a fundamental change. And whilst cars remain relevant for Gen Z as well, there is an assortment of alternative modes of transport to choose from – and the number is on the increase. For example seamless integration of different mobility options, if possible including smooth transition from one means of travel to the next, is very important to my generation, because according to a study by the Zukunftsinstitut, 42 per cent of people don’t use a car, travelling instead by public transport or cycling. What matters is that mobility should not cost much. So I’m also wondering to what extent my fellow Gen Z car drivers would be willing to give up a little of our independence and swap the convenience of filling stations for more time-consuming charging points. I’m quite intrigued to see whether the new generation really will continue to show similar behaviour patterns to the previous one, or whether they actually will respond to their call for a mobility revolution in real life. So does that mean not having a car at all? Or maybe a car for local trips? Will cargo bikes replace everything? Time will tell.

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly …” column series is written by Aya Jaff, Maximilian Buddenbohm, Dominic Otiang’a and Margarita Tsomou. In “Frankly … posthuman”, Aya Jaff takes a look at technical advances and how they affect our lives and our society.