Car Culture Isn’t Dead…Is It?

Car Culture is alive and well! 

You wouldn’t think so after reading the dozens of articles that declare the culture dead. There seems to be confusion about what “car culture” actually is. To some, the decline of car sales overall means there is a decline in the love of cars. They assume people that buy cars simply to commute are the same people that view cars as a way of life. These two groups have always been at the opposite ends of car buyers.

Outsiders have never understood our community. They don’t know anything about gearheads that love turning boring daily drivers into pieces of rolling art. They don’t get drag racing, car shows or just hanging out in the garage shooting the shit while working on your project.

As someone who’s been in this industry for close to 20 years, cars have never been cooler. Yes, the scene has changed, just like everything else. It’s moved online into forums & Facebook groups. But we are still here like we always will be. 

But here’s what our friends at the New York Times had to say in their clickbait titled article The End of Car Culture 

“America’s love affair with its vehicles seems to be cooling.”

And here is a quote from the Chicago Tribunes article American Car Culture Hits Skids With Millennials

“The automobile just isn’t that important to people’s lives anymore”

Reading both of these articles would make you think car culture is over. 

Car Based Television Shows

But what about the wildly popular shows like Top Gear, Street Outlaws, Fast N’ Loud, Texas Metal, Counting Cars, etc. There have never been more automotive based TV shows then there is now.

What gives? Is it possible these esteemed publications really are fake news? How can there be an explosion of car-related content, when they claim there is no-one to consume it? Who is watching this stuff?

Looking At Car Culture Trends

After reading these articles I decided to do a little digging. One way to see if a topic is gaining or losing popularity is by doing a Google Trends search. Google Trends shows the search volume for any given phrase over any given time.

 I started with a search for the actual phrase “Car Culture” which shows us this:

increased interest in car culture

Over the past ten years, there has been a steady increase in people searching for the term Car Culture. 

Ok, maybe that’s just a coincidence. Let’s try a few related searches. Car guys love turbo’s, are they still looking for turbo kits?

increased interest in turbo kits

Again over the last 10 years, the trend is going up. This is at a time when more cars and trucks than ever come with factory-installed turbo’s.

How about the simple phrase “horsepower”?

increased interest in horsepower

You guessed it, over the last ten years, more people are looking for horsepower

So, according to Google, who has more data than anyone on the planet, searches for phrases related to car culture are on the rise.

If more people than ever are looking for information about car-related topics, why does the outside world seem to think we are dying off?

It’s simple; they don’t understand the culture itself. They wrongly assume that because some groups aren’t interested in cars, then everyone is losing interest.

What Do The Automakers Think?

The car companies know there is still considerable demand. Every year they are building more high-performance vehicles. Here’s a list of just a few performance cars now on the market. 

  • Hellcat
  • Challenger RT
  • Charger RT
  • GT350 
  • Camaro ZL1
  • Mustang Bullitt 
  • Civic Type R
  • Kia Stinger GT
  • WRX Sti 
  • Supra
  • GT-R

If there was no interest they wouldn’t be making them. 

The Rise In Performance Shops

There has also been an explosion in the number of performance shops in the country. When we first started, there were a handful of places offering fabrication, installation, or retail services. Now there are hundreds if not thousands. Whatever your vehicle of choice is, there are dozens of shops that specialize in making it better.

Cars And Coffee

Another sign the car culture is going strong is the growth of Cars and Coffee. If you’ve never heard of Cars & Coffee, it’s an open-to-anybody event that brings car enthusiasts together. It doesn’t matter if they’re driving million-dollar exotics or a beloved old beater.

These gatherings are found in cities around the world and sometimes draw thousands of people. Year after year, these events continue to expand and grow.

Car Culture Themed YouTube Channels

Another sign that we still have a healthy car culture is the success of automotive-based channels on YouTube. Motor Trends channel has 6.5 million followers, TopGear has 7 million, ChrisFix has 6 million. These are just a few of the biggest channels. There are currently 34 channels that have over 1 million and 108 with more than 100,000 followers.

These are numbers that the TV networks struggle to get for their most popular shows. 

Some Areas Are In Decline

Some areas have been on a slow decline. Drag racing isn’t as popular as it once was. Of course, in many areas racing at a sanctioned track has been replaced by street racing.

The Millenials do have a lower percentage of car ownership than the previous generations. But as we know, car ownership doesn’t equal car culture. There are still plenty of younger people that have a love affair with automobiles. They aren’t the ones interviewed for these types of articles.

The Car Culture Is Alive And Well

The people that live the car lifestyle have never been your “average” group. Just like any niche, you have to find them. But it’s never been easier for us to connect. A simple search on Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or Reddit will allow you to find a massive group of people that love the same car as you.

You can look at the growth of these communities and see how the scene is growing. It’s just happening out of the limelight.  

But everyone in the scene already knows that. When the weather is warm enough (and sometimes when it isn’t), there is a group of car & truck junkies hanging out in a parking lot somewhere. Just like there always has been

About Tim Croft

Tim is the lead gearhead at Punishment Racing. He's been in the automotive industry for 20+ years as a technician, fabricator, and shop owner. Twitter