Andrew Benett: Dear Car Companies, Here’s Why You Should Be Psyched About Millennials

We’ve all heard the rumors about young people and cars. They can’t afford them, don’t much care for them, and will be less likely than previous generations to buy them. There is some truth to that narrative: In the US, a teenager is significantly less likely to get his or her driver’s license before age 18 compared with a couple of decades ago. In contrast to older generations, millennials would rather forgo a car than a computer. And young adults are more likely than other age groups to say they’re consciously choosing to drive less in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints. It’s not all that surprising, then, that Lyft cofounder John Zimmer has forecast that most millennials won’t own a car within five years, preferring instead to rideshare or use public transportation.

There’s only one problem with that prognosis: Millennials love cars. In fact, my company’s latest global research shows that nearly 6 in 10 car owners aged 18‒34 say they feel a personal connection to their automobile, compared with just around a third of baby boomers who said the same. Moreover, around half of millennials—versus just one-quarter of baby boomers and 38 percent of Gen Xers—say their car is one of their favorite places to be.

What some analysts fail to take into account is that, for millennials, automobiles aren’t simply a means of transport, but also a form of personal electronics. And these young drivers are the group most eagerly awaiting the connected car. Nearly 6 in 10 millennials (versus 4 in 10 boomers) believe cars of the future will compete much more on their entertainment and connectivity offerings than on looks and style. Already, 50 percent of millennials (versus 29 percent of boomers) would like their cars to be connected to the Internet, and 47 percent (versus 35 percent of boomers) believe that by 2050 the best-selling cars will be produced not by traditional automakers but by technology brands. iCar, anyone?

It’s intriguing that, despite their love of all things tech, millennials are only marginally more receptive than the other age groups to evolving forms of transportation. Only around a third of millennials (and a quarter of baby boomers) are eager to start using self-driving cars, maglev trains, urban transport pods (single-passenger vehicles that move on their own to a designated destination), or affordable electric bicycles. For 47 percent of millennials—and an equal percentage of Xers and boomers—automated cars hold little appeal because they enjoy driving.

So, if they don’t want their cars to become self-driving, what do millennials want? They are the age group most likely to say it’s important to them that their cars be fun to drive (72 percent agreed, compared with 59 percent of boomers) and that their cars be cool (49 percent agreed, compared with just 24 percent of boomers).

One area in which millennials don’t stand out is on the issue of environmentalism. True, most millennials surveyed (55 percent) said it’s important to them that their cars be eco-friendly, but that’s statistically indistinguishable from the 56 percent of Gen Xers and 54 percent of boomers who said the same. And only around a third of millennials (35 percent) cited “reducing their carbon footprints” as among the three most important things transportation companies should be working on today, on par with Xers (35 percent) and boomers (34 percent). Nor are millennials all that much more convinced that privately owned cars will soon be a thing of the past. Just 35 percent of millennials (compared with 34 percent of Xers and 30 percent of boomers) believe that by 2050 most people will share rather than own cars. And around the same percentage of each age group believe that most people will use public transportation rather than individual vehicles by 2050.

The upshot is that millennials and others don’t expect to be changing their own driving behaviors to reduce their eco impact; instead, they’re expecting car companies to make the entire industry greener. Around 7 in 10 respondents within each of the three age groups agreed that by 2050, most cars will be electric or run on another type of renewable energy.

So, don’t believe the hype about this latest generation of adults turning their backs on car culture. When it comes to automobiles, millennials want pretty much what they’re looking for in every sector of their consumer lives: products that are affordable, digitally connected, reflective of their lifestyles and personalities, and just plain fun.

 

Havas Worldwide’s newest global study—“The Modern Nomad: Connect Me If You Can”—draws on findings from an online survey of 10,131 people aged 18+ in 28 markets. For more information and to download the white paper, please visit http://bit.ly/MdnNomad.

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