Survey: One in three people would pick a phone over a car

Why drive when you can just pretend to drive?
Why drive when you can just pretend to drive?
Image: Shannon Stapleton
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Cars, it seems, are no longer the machines people covet the most.

A recent survey of 1,199 people across four major countries—China, Denmark, Germany, and the US—aimed to peek into the future of the automobile industry, which is currently struggling to keep its footing in an era of lightweight travel and disposable gadgets. The survey, conducted by design and strategy agency Frog, polled people across all ages in the four countries to examine whether there might be an “end of car culture” in the coming decades.

While the sample size of this survey is small, it may point to a shift in the world’s technology priorities. According to the results, 37% of car-owning individuals said they do not think their car is essential, and 29% also said they don’t expect to own a car beyond the next 10 years.

But most intriguing are the responses to a question that asked people to choose between cars and smartphones.

One-third of people surveyed said they would rather have a smartphone than a car. Though that figure may seem small, it’s likely to increase at a rapid pace. “Given that smartphones have been commonly available for only 10 years, we expect the proportion of people who value them more than their car to grow swiftly and significantly,” the company said in the report.

A breakdown of the survey responses by country, provided to Quartz by one of the study’s co-authors, Anthony Gregorio, is also fairly telling. In the US, only 16% of people said they would rather have a smartphone than a car; in Denmark and Germany, it was around 27%; in China, that figure was 51%.

To some, an affinity for one’s smartphone may actually compete with the pleasure of driving a car. For 56% of people in the survey’s sample, feeling productive while in transit (browsing the web or sending emails, for example) was essential. That feeling may have led many to turn toward public transit or ride-sharing options that don’t require paying attention at the wheel.

But, the report notes, “doomsday for car manufacturers is not here yet.” At least for now, personal vehicles are still the most common mode of transportation in the world. Automobile makers can let out a sigh of relief.