A Volkswagen 2.0 TDI Biturbo engine is seen in front of a Volkswagen Variant during the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, September 21, Germany. Shares in Volkswagen plunged the most in almost six years in early Monday trading after U.S. authorities accused the German carmaker of falsifying emissions data, which means it could face penalties of up to $18 billion. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Frankfurt Motor Show - Few things are so closely tied with Germany's national identity as the automobile.

But analysts say changes in demographics, consumer behaviour and new technologies are beginning to steer that relationship, especially for young people, in a different direction.

The show threw open its doors to the general public on Saturday, drawing car lovers in their hundreds of thousands to ogle a glittering display of bright, shiny new models.

The organisers are predicting that up to 900 000 visitors will pass through the vast exhibition halls by 27 September.

Centre of Automotive Management director Stefan Bratzel said: “Germans have a very special relationship with the car, which is evident in the importance they attach to the quality and innovation of the vehicles.”

That is evident in the success of top-of-the-range national brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Industry consultant Elmar Kades said: “They spend more on average than people from other countries do on a car and have a clear preference for high-end vehicles.”

SYMBOL OF SUCCESS

The ingrained love of fine cars is also reflected in attitudes that might raise eyebrows elsewhere.

“The company car is very important in Germany,” Kades said. “It’s one of the first questions that always come up at job interviews.

Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Centre for Automotive Research in Duisburg-Essen, said: “People in Germany are very attached to material things and ownership, and the car is seen here as a symbol of success,” said .

A small scratch on the bonnet will often send the owner speeding straight to the garage to have it repaired, he added with a laugh.

But young people in Germany appear to be turning away from the traditional view.

Bratzel said: “The car no longer has the importance for young people as it did 30 years ago, particularly for the young generation today who live in big cities.

According to one study by the Centre for Automotive Research, the average age of buyers of new cars in 2015 is 53, the highest ever.

And the centre says that’s not just because of Germany's ageing population.

The 18-45 age group - which makes up 40 percent of the population - represents just a quarter of new-car buyers.

Dudenhoeffer, who compiled the study, said: “Other products are vying for young people's attention, such as holidays, and this has increased sharply in recent years.

“In big cities, the car is losing its importance as a status symbol and the emotional relationship attached to it,” he said.

The trend is not only seen in Germany, but is still primarily an urban one, added Bratzel, pointing out that in rural areas, young people still see the car as a symbol of freedom.

SHARING CARS

Peter Fuss, auto expert at EY, noted another development.

“Fewer young people have a driving licence and more and more take part in car-sharing schemes. A car no longer has to be owned by its user,” he said.

Gero Graf, director of the German operations of Drivy, a French startup that allows car-owners to rent out their vehicle to other people when they are not using it themselves, agreed.

“For the young generation, it is no longer so important to have their first Golf or their first Peugeot,” he said. “They prefer to spend money on experiences.”

Germany, the cradle of the automobile industry, is also the world leader in car sharing. In Berlin, 45 percent of households do not own a car.

And car companies are looking to keep up with this trend, for example, by offering apps to that show which mode of transport - bus, train or car-sharing service - is best for a given journey.

AFP

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