NWautos: Seattle's local source for new and used autos


March 12, 2009 12:00 AM

The savvy consumers of Gen Y hit the showroom with their own set of specifications

Gen Y

Illustration by Katie Miller

DETROIT -- You could call them spoiled. Indulged. Pampered. Cosseted.

Generation Y, that group of young people who are just starting to earn enough money to buy new cars, want it all. They want vehicles full of gadgets. They don't want to haggle on price. They want cars with personality, great styling and cheap prices.

Heck, they even want to be able to easily change the color of their car a year or two after they bought it.

Call it what you want, but those in Gen Y -- now pre-teens to 27-year-olds -- are going to be a powerful force in the auto industry. By 2010, they should account for one in four vehicle sales, according to Deloitte Consulting. So the automakers are listening.

Just before the North American International Auto Show in January, Deloitte brought in business students from five colleges around the U.S. to discuss what automakers need to do to attract business from their peers. The students developed presentations based off their own work as well as a survey of their peers by Deloitte.

Survey findings
  • Based on 1,006 respondents in the 18-28 age range:
  • 80 percent of those surveyed said they are willing to pay more for a car that is environmentally friendly.
  • The top three reasons that a vehicle is cool were exterior styling, affordability and being environmentally friendly.
  • Roughly 90 percent of respondents rated gas mileage, affordability, and performance as extremely or very important factors in the decision to buy or lease a vehicle.
  • Safety was considered the most important factor when choosing a car to drive, followed by comfort.

"We can be either a great opportunity for the automakers or a threat to their survival," says Jason Jones, an MBA student from Gonzaga University in Spokane. "And Gen Y is already here -- they need to start building brand loyalty in the Gen Y market now."

Michigan State student Todd Hagopian said Gen Y can sometimes seem hard to please, because they are ambitious, driven, quirky and infatuated with celebrities.

"People misunderstand what Gen Y want," he says. "Just because we have three piercings does not mean we want something obnoxious. We just want good design." And the option to change the color, he added.

Some brands are doing things right, appealing to young people with smart messages and attractive styling. The group rated Mini, Jeep and Scion among their favorites. Some also gave high marks to BMW, Land Rover, Audi and Cadillac.

Mostly, though, younger people want what they want, when and how they want it. The student researchers discovered their peers want all the packages of options to be unbundled, meaning they could decide for themselves if they wanted seat warmers and a sun roof, or just the sun roof and a better stereo.

And they hate to haggle. Kevin McKay, also from Gonzaga, says prices should be straightforward and non-negotiable. "We don't want to spend time haggling over price," he says.