Adac loses members: young people drive away

The ADAC is losing members: because of the scandals, but also because younger people no longer see cars as a status symbol. Electronics are more important to them.

Just a tool for getting around: Cars in the world view of young people. Photo: dpa

It is a damper for the ADAC motorists’ club: For the first time in many years, the association, which had come under criticism for manipulated car prices and other scandals, has had to accept a loss of members. Around 320,000 members quit because of the affairs. In addition, 65,000 resigned for other reasons, or members died. That led to a total loss of about 385,000 members, as the association announced on Monday.

In the same period, however, about 370,000 people newly joined the association. The bottom line is that ADAC has lost 15,000 members so far. At the end of May, the association had 18.93 million members. In view of this huge total – almost every second motorist in Germany is an ADAC member – the loss may not seem great; nevertheless, the development is serious for the association.

ADAC Interim President August Markl, at any rate, practiced a bit of humility: "We want to and will correct those weaknesses and deficits that have crept into our organization in recent years," said Markl. For example, a clearer distinction should be made between the association and the associated companies.

Yet ADAC is a corporation in the clothes of an association. Last year, income from contributions was around 1.05 billion euros. ADAC spent just under 270 million euros on assistance services such as breakdown services or air rescue. Under the umbrella of a holding company, the club gathers 44 subsidiaries, which earned 120 million euros last year, mainly from insurance business. In total, the club, which treated itself to a chic new building in Munich, has around 8,900 employees.

Tool instead of status symbol

In the meantime, the ADAC has relented on the issue of tolls, which the CSU has been demanding for years and which the club had bitterly fought against. True to its motto of first obtaining the opinion of German motorists before making political interventions, the ADAC had a survey conducted by Infratest.

The surprising result: around 52 percent of German motorists and 55 percent of ADAC members have nothing against a compulsory vignette for the use of German freeways – if they are relieved of the burden of vehicle tax. Only a quarter reject corresponding plans by Federal Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU).

In the long term, however, it is not so much the toll or internal scandals that are likely to cause the ADAC problems, but a general trend: fewer and fewer young people are buying a car or seeing their own vehicle as a status symbol. But if you don’t own a car, you don’t need a motorists’ club, which most people join for the breakdown services or other assistance.

For the majority of the young generation of 18- to 34-year-olds in Germany, a car is no longer a status symbol, but merely a tool for getting from one place to another in comfort, the brand consulting agency Prophet found in a survey. Almost a third of young adults consider high-quality computers, laptops or smartphones to be more important than owning a car.

Electrical appliances more important than cars

According to Prophet, men and women are not far apart in their statements. Another trend is that the higher the level of education, the less important it is to own a car. Among students – most of whom live in cities with good public transportation or bike-friendly distances – one in two already considers high-quality electronic devices more important than owning a car.

A study by the University of Duisburg also came to the conclusion that fewer and fewer young people decided to buy a new car last year. According to the study, the average age of new car buyers rose from 51.3 years in 2011 to 52.2 years most recently.

However, it is far from certain that Germany will become a car-free country in the long term. At the latest when students grow up, start a family after entering the workforce and move to the outskirts of the city, most of them will buy their own vehicle. And that’s exactly what the car companies are counting on, with their low-cost rental car fleets in the cities to bind future buyers to their brands. Then the ADAC will probably strike again.

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