Much has been written about the ways in which Millennials are changing the retail landscape. It is perhaps not surprising that the first generation to have come of age with the Internet has a different way of doing things, but few in the industry were quite prepared for the degree to which Millennial tastes and shopping habits would completely alter everything from fast food to how we watch movies. Now that these shoppers are buying vehicles in significant numbers (due in large part to the 2008 recession, Millennials have been slower to enter the automotive market), automakers are trying to figure out how they are going to impact the car industry. What exactly do younger shoppers look for when they set out to buy a car?
The answer to this question is complex, and it goes without saying that there is a wide range of taste within the Millennial generation when it comes to just about anything. But it is possible to delineate a few significant features that the generation as a whole considers valuable. For example, Millennials tend to rate fuel efficiency quite highly among the features they find desirable in a car, and are more likely to be drawn to cutting edge green options like hybrids or electric cars. They also prefer SUVs over sedans, and favour vehicles that come with a wide range of different tech options like wifi hotspots, Bluetooth connections, and power sources — which isn’t surprising given how plugged in Millennials tend to be as a generation.
But the question of what Millennials want in a car cannot be divorced from the question of how they shop for their cars in the first place. Members of this generation are both more media savvy than their elders and more sceptical about advertising claims, which means they are far more likely to be drawn to a 2012 Nissan Altima for sale through a source they come to on their own than they are to a flashy advertisement. Marketing to Millennials is about more than just creating aspiration desires; it’s about connecting to them and building a sense of trust and rapport.
Much ink has been spilled about how Millennials are remaking a wide range of industries in their own image, and while it is certainly true that Millennials’ comfort with technology, penchant for ecologically friendly options, and independent approach to shopping is changing the automotive industry, it is also true that these tastes are only just becoming apparent. Having come of age around the same time as the 2008 recession, Millennials have faced long-term obstacles to entering the automotive market, and it still isn’t clear whether, for example, their preference for efficient vehicles reflects a commitment to a smaller carbon footprint or a sense of thriftiness born of economy.
It is likely that the most far-reaching effect of Millennial preferences will not be in what kind of cars they buy, but in how they buy them. Their preference for personal connection and scepticism about marketing means that successful car sellers will need to reach out to them on their home turf on the Internet, and provide flexible, personalized options, and this could indeed have a revolutionary impact on how the entire auto industry operates.