Apparently, it’s the biggest generation, population-wise, since baby boomers. Born roughly between 1980 and 2000, they’re so-called millennials or Generation Y, and now represent the largest demographic group in North America.
But unlike boomers, millennials aren’t throwing themselves into automobile ownership with the same enthusiasm. Yes, they’re buying, but the “emotional connection” that was part and parcel of growing up and buying a car in the ‘50s and ‘60s apparently isn’t there. Many millennials, it seems, view automobiles as a necessity rather than a lifestyle. That’s more than can be said for Generation X, who appear to have zero interest in automobiles. I once attended a new model launch back in the 1990s, and during the presentation, the marketing manager admitted that his company’s biggest challenge was trying to convince Gen X buyers that driving to work was superior to skateboarding or riding a bicycle.
According to who you talk to, the reasons for Generation Y’s seeming ambivalence are varied. For one thing, money is tighter. Gas and food is more expensive and cars are pricier. As well, insurance in some parts of the country is prohibitively expensive. Not to mention stricter rules for getting your driver’s license in the first place.
The skyrocketing cost of real estate doesn’t help. For many first-timers trying to get on the ladder, after buying a home, there isn’t enough left to handle the expenses of owning a car. In an ironic twist of fate, millennials, the best educated generation of all, are also often burdened with heavy student loan debts, which adds to the problem.
As well, public transit is more efficient than it used to be and with the range of smartphone apps and social networking available, it’ more practical than before. Car sharing co-ops like ZipCar, Modo, and Car2Go have some 1200 vehicles between them in Vancouver, with more to come.
It could also be a cultural thing. According to a survey by the Washington Post, cars are viewed by many millennials as a mode of transportation and not a status symbol or a way to have fun, and a significant number factor in the environmental impact of automobiles as part of their decision. Gen Y buyers also tend to be better informed and much pickier.
That said, cars are still moving out of the showrooms….if not as quickly. According to a 2014 study by the auditing firm, Deloitte, some three-quarters of all millennials plan to buy or lease a car within the next five years, and some 25 per cent of all new car purchases are by them.
In the States, the top five cars purchased by Generation Y buyers are the Mazda3, Acura ILX, Volkswagen GTi, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Scion tC….at least according to a study done by Autoguide.com last year.
In Canada, things are a little different. The top five manufactures preferred by millennials are: Honda, Toyota, VW, Mazda, and Ford, with the Civic, Corolla, Jetta, Mazda3, and Focus ranking as those cars favoured by Gen Y.
No huge surprise there. The Civic has been the best selling car in Canada, period, for at least the past 17 years, and the Corolla and Mazda3 aren’t far behind. As of 2014, the top five selling cars in Canada are the Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, and Chev Cruze.
But here’s a more relevant statistic: according to InsuranceHoteline.com the least expensive cars to insure in Canada are the Hyundai Accent, VW Jetta, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and Hyundai Elantra. If you want to ascertain what millennials are buying these days, this should tell you something.
It’s also interesting to note that most Gen Y buyers place fuel economy, affordability, a pleasing body style, and most importantly, up-to-date high-tech accessories above things like power, performance, and comfort. Connectivity is everything. Unlike boomers, women are also buying cars in greater numbers than ever, and influence buying decisions if they’re not actually signing on the dotted line.
What are manufacturers doing about it? Plenty. Things like Bluetooth connectivity and driver-automobile interface are commonplace throughout the industry, and Toyota, for example, simply re-invented itself with its Scion line: distancing the company from the stuffy, mom-and-pop image associated with the Camry and Corolla and appealing directly to younger buyers with affordable, entertaining models like the tC and xB. And a couple of years ago, at the North American Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors introduced the Tru 140S and Code 130R concept cars, which are designed to appeal directly to younger buyers. Said Chevrolet senior manager, John McFarland at the launch: “For the car company that can successfully engage this generation, there is tremendous opportunity. We want to hear what they have to say, engage them in our design process, and give them what they want – not what we think they want.”