Cars and Cultured Perils

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Los Angeles CA, Mar 11 2015 - Automobiles changed everything when they arrived on the scene in volume but one century ago. All of society made way for smoothing the roads to affluence, making personal transportation the second largest concern of modern life along the way. A generation ago one might have just assumed that we just had to build the box a little better each year and could expect to keep cars and trucks moving off the dealer lots. But as the age of the internet has shown us, market shift can come quickly and the old is rarely a match for the new when change is in order. A new automotive era is coming down the line.

With billions a year in revenues at stake, many stakeholders in the business of transportation need to pay heed to the shifting sands in the hourglass. The best way to start is to talk to some of the other stakeholders – listen to what’s happening on other avenues. Zócalo Public Square - in sponsorship with Metro (LA transit), is providing a series of presentations that feature expert discussions on matters of car conciousnous and conscience. Following are excerpts from "Is Car Culture Dead?"

The panel at Zócalo Public Square: Is Car Culture Dead?

Zócalo Public SquareIs Car Culture Dead? Panel discussion - Video

Moderated by Mike Floyd, Editor-in-Chief, Automobile Magazine

Moderated by Mike Floyd, Editor-in-Chief, Automobile Magazine

We were talking before we came out about how everybody got here and how long it took and as all you know it is kind of sport to bitch about traffic and talk about traffic your commutes and I have a 29 mile commute into work and I tell people that and it’s like somebody died. So Mimi actually walked here and Myles got stuck in traffic and was late; Deborah actually took the bus and walked {cheering} and Terry had all the side streets mapped out from the Petersen {laughing}.

Is car culture dead? No, I don’t think that is. I think Myles and I would have been out of a job long time ago. I do think the culture is shifting and joining us here are experts on the subject.

In an age of climate change and dense urban living, what role will cars play in our lives?

Mimi Sheller, Director at Drexel University Center for Mobilities Research and Policy

Mimi Sheller, Director Drexel University Center for Mobilities Research & Policy

It is harder to notice it happening in LA, but there is a transition happening nationally and internationally where there are fewer young people driving cars and fewer getting drivers licenses. There has been this decline in vehicle miles travelled and lot of statistics that started as early as 2004, and so before the recession and have continued despite coming out of the recession.

There seems to be some cultural shift where the millennial generation seem to want to live in city centers they want to live in walkable areas they want to use public transit and they are just not as interested in driving. Which is not to say that car culture nationally has died but that’s part of a wider transition and I think it is related to the idea of low carbon transitions also and there is pressure. Pressures of congestion, pollution and various other shifts that are going to lead to legal and regulatory frameworks that are gradually putting pressure on car culture as we know it. Its moving toward something new.

I think some social theorists talk about a battle that is happening right now between what some people call carbon capital and digital capital. Carbon capital is everything related to the oil industry and that’s a 20th century business model and digital capital like Google and Apple and others are disrupting that and moving into the mobility sector.

It’s no longer about selling cars, it’s about selling personalized mobility services. But it also has to be combined with a vision of multimodal  transportation that includes walking, biking and transit to get to hubs where you then use those automated vehicles.

Deborah Murphy, Los Angeles Walks founder

Deborah Murphy, Los Angeles Walks founder

Today it is all about options for young and old people and how they can get around their city. Some of the issue with the millennials who maybe aren’t driving or don’t want to is because they were stuck in a car with their parents in the suburbs being driven everywhere. They saw the world through a glass window instead of touching the flower and smelling the honey bee and meeting somebody. They want to experience the city more first hand. I think there’s a transition.

People do still like cars - I have a car, but I choose not to drive it when at all possible and I take the bus. I walk and I am not much of a cyclist but I do want to know that I have options. The thing with the autonomous car is that people don’t have to own it, they can share it and we don’t have to have so many parking places. We can reuse our land in better ways than have lots of surface parking lots.

The multi-mobility app and digital technology can help us know our options about how we can get around and that we can change the way we operate in our city.

Myles Kovacs, DUB Magazine founder

Myles Kovacs, DUB Magazine founder

I think there are multiple factors why there are declining numbers for registered 16 year old drivers licenses especially here in CA. They pulled it out of the educational system so now it's separate, so they have to pay while we’re also in a recession. So that impacts the numbers greatly and then our kids see us struggling to make car payments and pay for gas. Do they want that type of responsibility? No. Do they need a car to go visit their friend down the street to talk to them like we used to? No, because they have the Internet. Also car styles are in an old cycle, and they don't want to buy yesterday's car. So there are all of these reasons this is happening - it is not that there is not a love affair for automobiles. As we progress in our lives we have to remember that these kids don’t want to wear our clothes, don’t want to drink our drink and don’t want to be like us.

But the realty of it is - people still love cars; people want cars. The next generation grew up with the Internet and is going to be really savvy. They are going to solve a lot of issues and change everything. Right now the whole automotive industry to me is running incorrectly and they are going to just wipe it out.

The future is going to be a computer with wheels not a car with a computer. That’s evolution! Whatever it takes to fuel that, that’s going to be the success.

Terry Karges, Petersen Automotive Museum executive director

Terry Karges, Petersen Automotive Museum executive director

We know for a fact that there is a huge number of enthusiasts worldwide. The largest most popular television show in the world is in 214 countries - Top Gear. But talking about the millennials and our experience in looking at the research, this is something that the car companies are very concerned about.

One of the economic factors is that these kids don’t have jobs. Kids are having to live at home because they don’t have the money to live out and the freedom issue is different from the way we were raised. When I was 14 ½ I was at the DMV waiting to get my license -- now they’ve got games. The Forza driving game has 43 Million subscribers, and at any given time of the day around the world there are 200,000-300,000 people playing this driving game. So the driving interest and that kind of cultural interest is still there.

Currently there are 80 million cars a year being built [worldwide], so the industry and the economy of scale on all of these things is going to come to pass as far as individual preference. 


1995+ Acura NSX downtown Los Angeles

What could have been a clash of culture ideas turned into a pretty entertaining session of experts all coming to agreement on at least one point. Change is afoot, and we best get in the right gear and on with the most options to move forward. None of the wise panelists would hazard a guess as to where the automobile may be 20 years from now - only that things will be very different even 5 years out.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

In the spirit of getting out of the car and seeing the real world in the meantime, we walked a few blocks around the Museum of Contemporary Art. The streets of LA provide additional artistic viewpoints as far as you can look. You don't really notice when you are speeding through town with dark windows up, air and tunes on full blast. When did all this go up?

Downtown Los Angeles Graffiti Art

by Randy Berg

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