There are assumptions we all make about who buys which kind of car. That old VW van with the flowers and peace signs? Hippies, right? A Hummer? Either a macho guy or Arnold Schwarzenegger (but maybe that’s the same thing). A Ford Focus or Toyota Corolla? Those are chick cars. Texting and driving, making a call and eating a fast-food burger all at the same time? Gen Y.
But two new studies, one looking at Gen Y (a/k/a "millennials," born from the 1980s to early 2000s) and the other looking at male/female buying preferences, show that the real picture is much more nuanced. Gen Y may not be as car-phobic as we thought, and women like SUVs more than men.
First, Gen Y: A 2014 Global Automotive Consumer Study from Deloitte, with responses from 2,000 U.S. residents, finds that Gen Y folks aren’t all that opposed to driving or owning a car, but they are somewhat put off by affordability issues, maintenance costs and the availability of walking or public transit. If cars were cheaper, more fuel-efficient and offered more affordable payment options, they’d sign on the dotted line.
About 80 percent of Gen Y consumers are willing to buy, and 64 percent of them love their cars (if they have them), but they’re three times more likely to jettison vehicle ownership if costs go up. An eye-popping 67 percent would prefer to live in a neighborhood where everything is within walking distance, and 47 percent would relocate to reduce their commute. They love car sharing, carpooling if it’s available and convenient (a big word with them). They want to access those services with their smartphones.
Their alternative ride of choice is a hybrid car (27 percent), with 8 percent liking plug-in hybrids and 7 percent choosing battery electrics. That number sounds low, but it’s more than double the non-Gen Y respondents (3 percent of that group would consider a battery car).
Craig Giffi, a Deloitte analyst, notes that there are 80 million Gen Y people in the marketplace, and that 64 million of them plan to buy a car within the next five years — so they’re pretty important to automakers. There’s a lot of industry concern about the opt-outs. “A significant number of people in Gen Y still think they don’t need a car, and their number one issue is affordability,” Giffi said.
One finding you might not expect, according to Joe Vitale, another Deloitte analyst, is tepid interest in self-driving cars. “Less than 50 percent view vehicles that drive themselves to be a huge benefit,” Vitale said. “That’s an interesting finding.”
The iSeeCars.com study on male/female preferences found that women were 67 percent more likely than men to opt for a crossover, and 9 percent more likely to go for an SUV. I think this is related to the "I like to sit up high" thing, which really doesn't say as much about safety as buyers think. And get this: men and women respond equally to minivans.
Less shocking is that women are 23 percent more likely to like small cars, and men 25 percent more friendly to large cars. And men are four times more likely to want a car that costs $45,000 or more. Both sexes like hybrids equally, but men go for battery electrics at twice the rate of women.
There's plenty of evidence that car salesmen discriminate against women buyers, and probably other groups, too. But if I were on a lot today, I’d probably just throw out the stereotypes and approach each potential buyer as an individual. Forget Gen Y, male/female, and just listen to the customer. Now here's an actual millennial raving about what he thinks about cars for Popular Science — and a lot of it is line with the survey results:
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