Phone or car? 58 percent of those 16-24 would pick their vehicle

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Dylan Coleman of Bel Air, California, modified this 1996 BMW M3 as part of SEMA's Young Guns program for customizers 27 years of age or younger | SEMA photos

The conventional idea within much of the car-collecting community is that young people are not interested in cars. They don’t drive them, let alone hope someday to collect them.

But a study by the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which stages its annual trade show next week in Las Vegas, belies that wisdom. In fact, according to the SEMA Young Accessorizers Report, 58 percent of those aged 16-24 who accessorize their vehicles would rather give up their smart phones for a week than give up their vehicle for a week.

The survey also revealed that there are 24 million drivers in that age demographic and in 2017 they drove more than 155 billiion — yes, billion with a “B” — miles.

They also spent more than $7.2 billion — yes, again, with a “B” — modifying their vehicles in 2017. That $7 billion figure represents more than 16 percent of the $43 billion spent last year on aftermarket automotive products. And more than half plan to add accessories within the next year.

SEMA includes young customizers in its Battle of the Builders competition with a special Young Guns category for those aged 27 and under

“Social life is very important to young people, and 4 out of 5 say that their car helps bring them closer to their friends,” SEMA reported.

Among other findings, the report found that of 38.4 million people aged 16-24 in the U.S., 12.2 million do not have a driver’s license. Only 27 percent of those age 16 have licenses, but among 24 year olds, 83 percent do possess a license.

Whether they have a license or not, 80 percent of all travel was done by personal car or truck. Among other means, 13 percent of miles were done by walking or on a bicycle, 6 percent via public transit, 1 percent by taxi, limo, Uber, Lyft, etc.

Of those who accessorize their vehicles, 51 percent of males said they install the parts themselves while only 24 percent of females do their own installation. 

SEMA invites the ‘Young Guns,’ those not yet 27 years of age, to showcase their builds at the annual SEMA Show. Among those invited in 2017 was Jacob Neuenschwander, a 22-year-old from Ohio who did this 2004 Dodge Ram

Primary modifications include wheels and tires, exterior body upgrades/changes, upgraded vehicle chemicals and changes to the vehicle’s interior.

“When thinking about their favorite modification or upgrade,” SEMA noted, “accessorizers were motivated by the desire to make their vehicles look and perform their best, while also adding comfort, entertainment and functionality.”

Of those who do accessorize their vehicles, one quarter are involved in a car-related group on social media.

SEMA said the study was based on responses from more than 7,000 people.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the Web and becoming the author of more than 15 books. In addition to being Editorial Director at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times, writes a weekly automotive feature for The Detroit News and is an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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