May 19, 2020

The car wax industry is losing its sheen

For a new crop of drivers, aesthetics are taking a back seat to practicality.

Photo by Barry James Gilmour/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Car wax merchants are facing a looming crisis: Young people just aren’t getting their buff on anymore.

Sales of the product have always waxed and waned, but around 2013, car wax brands like Meguiar’s, Turtle Wax, and Collinite started to see interest in their products decelerate.

Instead of the traditional wax, younger buyers are opting for longer-lasting — but less flashy — synthetic coatings. 

For this new crop of drivers, aesthetics are taking a back seat to practical use. Cars aren’t spaces of endless possibility as they were for older people.

Are the Kars really 4 Kids?

About a decade ago, auto execs panicked that millenials would stop haggling for cars. That hasn’t happened: Millennials are now taking out auto loans — a metric of car buying — at a slightly higher rate than Gen X did at the same age.

But it is true that young people aren’t as invested in car culture as their elders were. The number of 16-year-olds with driver’s licenses has dropped by almost half since 1983.

And even though young people own cars at roughly the same rate, they enjoy them less: In 2018, young people were more likely to say they’d prefer an alternative to driving.

That’s bad for optional amenities like car wax. Even worse: Car magazines — once a way to rev up excitement for flashy new vehicles — have run out of steam.

The industry is taking a marketing U-turn  

To reach younger buyers, car wax brands are partnering with YouTubers and placing their products in video games like CSR Racing 2. 

But if stan culture is a metric for enthusiasm, public transit advocates may have the car honchos beat. Car culture has nothing on the Numtot movement — a meme-filled call for improved public transit that has amassed 200k+ disciples on Facebook.

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