How do you sell cars to people who are only mildly interested in cars? I thought maybe with mild cars, mild advertising and mild salespeople. But apparently that’s incorrect.

Truth be told, automakers are just learning how to appeal to the next big group of auto buyers — young people who love their digital world a lot more than the automotive world.

At this year’s auto show in Detroit, Chevrolet introduced a couple of concepts aimed squarely at this “not really crazy about cars” generation.

But before it did, John McFarland, leader of GM’s Global Youth Strategy, shared some research it unearthed about this new group of buyers.


For starters, it’s a big group — in the U.S. alone, young consumers are 80 million strong, and represent 40 per cent of the potential car buying market.

The key word there is “potential.”

Many are just not getting their licenses when they turn 16. For them, the signal that they’ve made it to adulthood is not getting behind the wheel, but getting behind a smartphone.

Also, their digital world provides social experiences that were previously only possible by leaving the driveway.

But all is not lost. While many are disinterested in purchasing a new car right away, many feel the other way. After talking to over 9,000 young customers, GM concluded that nearly 40 per cent ARE interested in cars; in the U.S. that translates to 32 million potential young customers.

All well and good, but even these car-interested types have very unique views on car brands. Basically most car brands aren’t turning their crank.

This is in contrast to their passion and emotional connection to other tech brands, like Apple, Google, and Facebook, as well as to brands such as Nike and Target.

According to McFarland, auto brands fall in the middle of their brand-love rankings, “somewhere around disinterest and complacency.”

And to punctuate the complacency, he offered this anecdote: He asked a young woman in California about her car. She was very complimentary about it. When he probed further, and asked if she actually loved the car, she said, “Well, the best way I can describe it, is it’s kinda like an ugly boyfriend, you know? It’s been good to me, but the second something better comes along ... it’s out the door.”

So car brands, like Chevrolet, who target this audience, have their work cut out for them. Lots of back and forth is needed, said McFarland.

Young buyers are particularly interested in a vehicle’s connectivity.

According the Chevrolet, they’re also interested in being involved in the design process. That’s why the two concepts revealed in Detroit — the Tru 140S and Code 130R — have no interiors. GM has ideas for the interiors, and how to approach their connectivity and infotainment systems, but before it locks into a certain approach, it’s inviting a whole bunch of young people to offer some input, through kiosks at auto shows, and bringing the vehicles to where young people hang out.

“Crowd sourcing,” so to speak.

Oh yeah, almost forgot about the cars. Both are four-door sport coupes, because young folk like sports cars, but want to bring their friends along too. Both are also fuel efficient, with 1.4-litre turbo engines. The front-drive Tru 140S channels the “Italian exotic car” vibe, while the rear-drive Code 130R channels a “muscle car” vibe.

I like the red one, even though I’m not sure I’m allowed to ... not in the demographic apparently.

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