The Millennials are coming! They’re coming over the hills, armed with newly minted driving licenses, numerous texting and music devices, and a whole bunch of unique to them expectations about the automotive experience.
I say we run for cover.
But the automakers can’t wait to embrace them, no doubt already tired of dealing with cranky baby boomers and their ever-changing lifestyles, as well as the generation after that, those jaded generation-X types.
The Millennial Generation is variously referred to as Generation Y, Generation Next, the Net Generation, or the Echo Boom. Either way, they are the demographic with birth dates between the mid-1970s and the 1990s — the children of the baby boomers.
Other than that baby boom, they are the largest group moving through the North American population. In the U.S, about 11,000 reach driving age every day.
Some automakers are more than ready to fulfill their needs. But before you do that, you have to figure what are their needs are, and how they tick.
One company that did lots of research in this area was Ford, in preparation for the North American launch of Fiesta, which precisely targets Millennials (as well as, ironically, their parents, who are now de-nesting, and ditching big houses and big SUVS for condos and smaller cars).
The North American Fiesta actually debuts today, at the L.A. auto show. Last week some auto scribes, including yours truly, were in Dearborn, Mich., to get a “deep dive” into everything Fiesta. Sheryll Connelly, Ford’s global trends and futuring manager, told us what Ford had learned about Millennials. So here are the bullet points (paraphrased)…
• They grew up in the era of urbanization. They are drawn to cities, and enjoy the 24/7 flavour of city life.
• They grew up in the era of miniaturization of products, mostly electronics. Consequently, they understand bigger isn’t necessarily better.
• They grew up in the era of sustainability. They view overbuying as irresponsible.
• They don’t yet have an auto brand they are loyal to.
• They never expect to be disconnected from their friends and activities, via electronic communication thingies. Being in a car should not disrupt this whatsoever.
• They are used to being chauffeured in their parent’s upscale vehicles. They wouldn’t know what to do with a window crank. Living rooms have central air and DVD players, and so do SUVs.
• They grew up in a period of heavy consumption and prosperity. They are young, but savvy consumers. They live for finding designer products at discount prices.
• They’re not interested in “making do” with cheaper products, like an econobox starter car. They have a sense of entitlement.
• Compared to previous generations, they wait a bit longer before purchasing their first vehicle; because driver education and insurance are more expensive than they used to be, and because parents didn’t mind driving them around (some parents say it was the only quality time they got with their ungrateful teenagers). Also, in this digital age, there seems to be less of a need to be physically where their friends are.
• Automakers, and other marketers, need to use non-traditional media to get the word out to these people. Twitter, not television.
The final point for today: Millennium types like driving and consider it fun, but don’t slobber over the automobile as a focal point of their lives, as did some previous generations.
That’s a stake in my heart. But thankfully, I will survive, because I’m not one of those new-age Millennium-generation vampires.
– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.
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