"Sure times change. Lots of things have changed in culture, some for good, some for bad, and many neutral. But I really just don't see the savings and working towards goals going on as much anymore. In fact the NY Times just wrote an article yesterday about how despite skyrocketing tuition prices, people putting off college for a year or 3 to save and then working their way through college is a dying tradition; People just take out loans these days. Its all part of an increasingly 'instant gratification' culture where debt is so free flowing, saving money towards an economic goal is lost practice."
This is one side of the story, but an entirely reasonable alternative view exists. It's not "instant gratification" that would drive me to take out a student loan and not put off school for years to save, it's a good grasp of economics and a change in culture that's made it possible. For example, instead of getting a substandard job (you're not going to fast-track a job you're getting just to save for college) for three years, I can get into school right now, and use those three years at the end of my tenure to get a job in my chosen career, paying much better and offering direct advancement in my field (I'm ignoring the "working one's way through school" part of it because that can be done no matter when you decide to go, so it's neutral to the financial differences between borrowing and waiting). I'll be three years farther in my field than someone who saved for college and the pay differential (in most industries) between three years of scut work and three years of post-collegiate work will pay for the interest against the loan on that extra time, so financially I'm not much worse off than the late starter while I'm a mile ahead professionally. It's the relatively easy availability of credit that makes this economically feasible, so there's little surprise that more people take advantage of it now than when it wasn't there at all.
"Because really that's what this type of registry is - a for-a-fee savings plan. People after all could send their gift in the form of a check directly to the prospective car owner... but would that person have the discipline to actually save it, along with any other money gifts or windfalls? And would they be willing to buy a used car with their savings."
Weren't you just decrying that people don't save like they used to? If it works, then what difference does it make whether it's a for-fee savings account? It's easy to condescend on people who can't just save it in a savings account, but if the choices are using a for-fee savings account or failing to use a no-fee savings account, then treating people like fools for using what they need to get the job done is just elitist. And since they disburse the result as a check, someone could buy whatever car they want with the proceeds, so if they're willing to buy a used car then see above for the registry being a tool that some people need to get the job done. I don't see this any differently from the old time Christmas Club accounts that paid no interest and yet were still wildly popular because many people (even back in the good old days) needed an enforced savings account to help them save.