Young drivers would rather give up phone than car for a week, study reveals

SEMA stages a Young Guns car-builder competition that will reward 9 regional winners with trips to the annual SEMA Show in the fall to display their cars. Winning at the TX2K in Houston were Keenen LaCour and his 2003 Mitsubishi Evo8 | SEMA photos

From the youthful crowds drawn to drift events to those turning out for the Future Classics Car Show, RADwood and a bunch of car-show meetups organized via social media alerts, the next generation of car enthusiasts is coming along very nicely, thank you.

And if you’re still not convinced, SEMA has just published its latest “young accessorizers” report that finds that:

•  Just shy of 8 million drivers aged 16-24 accessorize their vehicles on an annual basis.

  They spent more than $7 billion doing so just last year.

•  58 percent of them would rather give up their smartphones for a week than be without their vehicles.

Yes, it is true that of the 38.4 million people in the United States in the 16-24 age group, 12.2 million do not have driving licenses. But by the time they reach age 22, more than 80 percent of them do have licenses, the Specialty Equipment Market Association reports.

Classics are thought of as dream projects and inspire accessorizers to return the vehicles to their former glory. They want to maintain the look and feel of the original while having the comfort and safety of a modern car.”

Among licensed drivers 16-24, one third are accessorizers, including 41 percent of males and 23 percent of females. About half of those guys and a quarter of the gals do their own installation work. 

Young Guns winner at the Formula Drive event in Long Beach, California, was Steven Nadasai for his 2011 Volkswagen GTI. He and Keenen LaCour will be joined by 7 other regional winers at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas later this year

“Money is the biggest barrier to accessorization,” the report notes, pointing out that among households headed by those less than 25 years of age, transportation is the second-highest expense behind housing and ahead of food and education costs.

Including all 16-24 year olds, after money spent on essentials, more is spent on vehicle modifications and accessories than on travel, dining out, clothing, electronics or entertainment.

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What sort of accessorizing are they doing? No. 1 is wheels and tires, with exterior body modifications and interior upgrades, including lighting, also very popular. About one quarter are doing suspension/brakes/steering modifications and nearly 20 percent are working on engine upgrades. 

“Projects often start with upgrading to fix an issue,” the report says. “Accessorizers get inspired when something is not working correctly. They’ll go beyond the original part for a ‘fix’ that’s better than new. Sports cars, small cars and pickups are the segments most often modified.”

Here’s another encouraging sign:  Nearly 70 percent of 16-24 accessorizers say they seek the highest-quality and most reliable parts. 

Nearly 80 percent said their vehicles help them stay closer to their friends.

The study asked 16-24 year olds about classic cars. Here’s what it found:

“Classics are thought of as dream projects and inspire accessorizers to return the vehicles to their former glory. They want to maintain the look and feel of the original while having the comfort and safety of a modern car.”

Asked about their favorite classics, the 16-24 year olds pointed to 1960s-era Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet Impalas, Corvettes and Camaros, and Volkswagen Beetles and Vans.

Regardless of which classic vehicle, they would want to do engine upgrades, add leather seating and better interior lighting, and such features as GPS, Bluetooth and backup cameras.

“Many young accessorizers begin car customization with the desire to express their unique personalities through their cars,” the report added. “This is especially important for women. Unique paint jobs, exterior body modifications and high-performance parts help their vehicles become extensions of their personalities.”

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 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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