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 |  Nov 22 2011, 9:45 AM

A car has long been a tool of freedom. It allows an individual to reach any destination at anytime in whatever fashion desired. It’s a rite of passage and a sign of maturity and adulthood. So it’s no surprise, automakers have long directed its focus to the youngest demographic in hopes to instill brand loyalty as soon as possible.However, a new and unexpected opposition is endangering the market– the rising relevance and popularity of the smartphone.

Statistics from the Transportation Department noted that in 1978, 50 percent of 16-year-olds in the United States obtained their first driver’s license. By 2008, the number dropped to only 30 percent. According to Gartner’s lead automotive analyst, Thilo Koslowski, says, “Mobile devices, gadgets and the Internet are becoming must-have lifestyle products that convey status. In that sense these devices offer a degree of freedom and social reach that previously only the automobile offered.” As a matter of fact, Koslowski went as far as saying, “The iPhone is the Ford Mustang of today.”

Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company’s manager of global consumer trends and futuring, continued, “The car used to be the signal of adulthood, of freedom… Now the signal into adulthood for teenagers is the smartphone.”

Connelly explained that driving a car may limit the valuable time a teenager could have used to text their friends our update their statuses. While public transportation is slower, it will still provide teenagers time to engage friends on their mobile device. Yet, Ford is undeterred. K. Venkatesh Prasad, Ford’s senior technical leader of open innovation, responded with, “We are not looking at this to ask how we can get teens to buy a car versus an iPhone. Instead, the car has to become more than just a car. It has to become an experience.”

What that means for Ford is to create cars that can better mesh with a teenager or a young adult’s life by making them more like smartphones– cars that could automatically check in on FourSquare when it arrives at a trendy hangout spot, read text messages aloud, and built in cameras to take profile pictures and videos for the passengers so that they can upload their experiences onto Facebook or YouTube. Shared music networks can be implemented on inboard infotainment systems as well.

Unfortunately, it seems as if sheer driving pleasure and the significance of mobility has been lost to the new generation. A scary thought, but soon a car could even navigate itself so that the teenager could give social networking its undivided attention.

[Source: New York Times]