Commentary

“What’s the matter with kids today?” asks a song from the 1960s musical “Bye Bye Birdie.”

The show tune decried youths who now are old enough to carry American Assn. of Retired People membership cards. That gives them not just senior discounts but also the right to say of today’s young generation: “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?” (Another line from the “Kids” song.)

We Baby Boomers were a rebellious bunch, defying authority and arguing with adults about everything from the Vietnam War to Bob Dylan’s singing talents. In a Gallup poll, nearly 75% of that era’s youths spoke of a generation gap. It was more like a gulf.

Today’s kids? They like their parents, respect their values and value their opinions, according to research into this odd inter-generational phenomenon.

Close to their folks, typical college students check in about 10 times a week, says Time magazine. Their parents are Facebook friends. The two groups listen to the same music.

Whoa.

Young Boomers loved their stuff as much as they disdained adults. We got what we wanted, and that extended to cars. There wasn’t a vehicle add-on we didn’t covet, including mufflers that ironically made cars louder, not quieter.

Our parents suffered through the Depression and wanted a better life for us. So they indulged us. “Boomers grew up selfish,” says John Wolkonowicz, a youngish-looking automotive researcher for IHS Global Insight. We turned into know-it-alls, he says. What does he know?

In contrast to youthful spendthrift Boomers, members of Generation Y (ages 16 to 32) show sensible, conservative tastes as automotive consumers. They are no-frills, no-thrills car shoppers.

They look for affordability, practicality, fuel efficiency and options that make sense to them, says Chance Parker, a research director for J.D. Power and Associates. “They don’t focus a lot on whiz-bang features.”

Here’s the scary part. A growing number of American teens show little immediate desire to get a car or spend money to maintain one. Parker calls that “startling” information, gleaned from monitoring online chats, blogs and social-media websites.

“We hear things such as, ‘My mom’s been bugging me to take a test for a driver’s license,’” he says. “It’s not the way I felt when I was a kid. I couldn’t wait to get a car.”

At the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium in May, J.D. Power’s Mike Cooperman will give a presentation called “Gen Y Shifting Away from Cars.” Conference sponsors might consider passing out aspirin afterwards.

If they are not keen on getting a car right away, what does interest today’s youth? “Finding a job,” says Parker.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned allowances?

Boomers couldn’t wait to get their driver’s licenses. We counted the days until our 16th birthday. When that arrived, we did three things: open presents, get our driver’s license and drive off to destination anywhere.

We didn’t waste time buckling our seatbelts, either. Our complaint with seatbelts of that era was that they were uncomfortable – to sit on. No one wore them. Tell a kid today not to wear a seatbelt, and see how far you get.

The day my older sister turned 16, she was geeked to get her driver’s license. First things first. She had to take the road test. But there was a big problem.

The family car was not readily available that day. Rather than wait until tomorrow, my sister nagged my mom to borrow a neighbor’s car for the test. Well, that didn’t happen. Still, it shows what cars meant to us Boomer brats.

Not so with this new generation that is capable of postponing immediate gratification. Why don’t they grow up? Don’t they know the auto industry needs to sell vehicles? Lots of them. Now! Not when they are good and ready to buy.

It’s probably no use. As the song says: “Kids! You can talk and talk till your face is blue. Kids! But they still just do what they want to do.”

Oh, wait. That song was about us.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com