Well, this is encouraging. A new study of luxury car buyers commissioned by BMW finds that even luxury car buyers are beginning to reject conspicuous consumption, with more and more choosing their purchases for "social, political, or environmental reasons".

BMW and Mini executives, in a presentation called "What consumers are learning from the Great Recession," discussed the results of a survey of 6,000 adults last spring and updated over the last two months.

Modesty in, materialism out

One finding: Participants agreed that "materialism can bite you in the rear." Another: "Modesty is the new cool."

The conclusion is that social values are becoming stronger influences in vehicle purchases, resulting in "conscientious consumers" who bring those values into the showroom. In fact, 51 percent of respondents used environmental, social, or political beliefs to guide their purchases, up from just 32 percent three years ago--and the percentage was higher among the wealthiest buyers.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

Excited by technology

One positive sign for those automakers, like BMW, that have long been technical leaders: Consumers have grown more excited about the opportunities offered by new technologies--from clean diesel to hybrids, from plug-in vehicles to intelligent navigation systems--in addressing issues like the environment.

BMW will respond by increasing its focus on new powertrain technologies. Like many automakers planning to use smaller, more powerful engines, it will reintroduce four-cylinder engines to the U.S. It will also increase its efforts in clean diesels like its 2010 BMW 335d, continue work on hybrids like the new 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, and expand its range of "Efficient Dynamics" energy saving features.

Japan: Cars becoming undesirable?

Some of this ties into other research that found Japanese young people, among the world's most fashion conscious, are changing their views toward motor vehicles.  While previously they viewed them as neutral, some had evolved into viewing vehicles as socially undesirable and a bad thing for society.

In Japan, of course, most citizens can take advantage of clean, reliable local and long-distance mass transit. That is hardly the case in the U.S., where half a century of suburban zoning leaves most of us reliant on gasoline vehicles for even the most basic of life activities.