Possibly the greatest cinematic celebration of cars and youth, American Graffiti, celebrates its 40th anniversary this month.
The story of California teenagers’ lives revolving around their cars rang true once but would seem hopelessly contrived if made today. Nowadays, increasing numbers of teenagers across the developed world don’t even bother getting a driving licence, let alone a car.
Car manufacturers are starting to fret that young people - the car buyers of tomorrow - are falling out of love with their products. Given the ageing populations of developed countries, car companies are desperate to woo as many young buyers as possible, and the thought that the crucial youth market might dry up is giving bosses sleepless nights.
To see how bad things could get, just look at Japan, where the pheno menon was first noted. A stagnant economy for the past 20 years, serious congestion and a youth market focused on products with plugs, not petrol, has led to a collapse in the Japanese car market. It peaked in 1990 at 7.7 million, and then fell steadily to a low of 4.2 million in 2011, before recovering slightly to 5.0 million in 2012 (mainly because of government incentives).
However, the true picture is even worse. The proportion taken by mini cars up to 660cc has soared to 40 per cent of total sales - and they are the least profitable (and least aspirational) part of the market.
A survey of 1700 Japanese in their 20s and 30s by Nihon Shimbun, Japan’s biggest business newspaper, found that the proportion of Japanese men in their 20s who wanted a car fell from 48 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2007, and the proportion of Japanese drivers under 30 halved between 1993 and 2005.