BERLIN (Reuters) - In the land of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen, Germany's next generation is snubbing a cornerstone of its economy -- the auto industry, according to new research.
"The generation aged under 30 drives cars less than it used to," said Martin Kagerbauer, of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), where researchers analyzed the modes of travel of 1500 people during a one week period every autumn since 1994.
"This generation also seems to be taking driving tests and buying cars later," he added.
With annual sales of about 315 billion euros ($437 billion) in 2010, the auto industry is a crucial pillar of the German economy. Last year, German carmakers produced about 12.7 million cars worldwide with 709,000 employees, or one-seventh of the German workforce.
The survey showed that 18 to 30-year-olds are driving four km (2.4 miles) a week less than they did in 1995, while their weekly distance travelled on public transport has increased by 5.5 km.
Kagerbauer cited better public transport in cities, car sharing, bike rentals and online shopping as some of the reasons fewer young drivers were on the road.
Thies Hansen, 26, a student at Humboldt University in Berlin, prefers to travel by bike and train.
"It's not for ecological reasons or anything -- driving a car is just really expensive and as a student I can't afford it," said Hansen, who does not have a driver's license or a car.
But Eckehart Rotter, a spokesman for the German Association of the Automotive Industry, is not worried about the impact fewer young drivers might have on the future of the car industry.
"More and more young people are completing their degrees and don't need cars while they are living in university towns -- it's not that we are losing clientele, they are just buying at an older age," Rotter explained.