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March 2, 2012

News & Features

Gen Y could be the group that makes 'green' vehicles the norm

Los Angeles Times

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(Illustration by Sara Kennedy/NWautos staff)

When it comes to their autos, members of Generation Y want hybrid cars stuffed with technology. They could be the "generation that leads us away from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles," says Craig Giffi, the Deloitte automotive consultant who oversees the accounting firm's annual survey of Generation Y auto consumers.

Deloitte defines the Generation Y group as those from 19 to 31 years old. Automakers seem to be targeting this market with many of their latest offerings.

New hybrids
  • Other hybrids at the Detroit auto show in January:
  • Ford unveiled a hybrid and a plug-in-hybrid version of its next-generation Fusion sedan that goes on sale this year.
  • Honda showed a concept version of its new Accord sedan, which also will be sold as a plug-in hybrid.
  • BMW displayed a hybrid version of its latest-generation 3 Series sports sedan that will go on sale this year.
  • General Motors is offering versions of the Chevrolet Malibu, Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal sedans with small hybrid systems designed to boost fuel economy.

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, Toyota displayed a tiny new Prius hybrid that has the lowest price and highest fuel economy of any non-plug-in hybrid.

The Prius c will hit showrooms this spring with a list price starting at less than $19,000 and a highway fuel-economy rating of 53 mpg.

"The cost of ownership is much more important to Gen Y consumers than their parents, and the big variable there is fuel efficiency," says Erich J. Merkle, Ford's U.S. sales analyst. Ford also displayed hybrid vehicles at the Detroit show.

According to the Deloitte survey, 59 percent of Generation Y respondents said they preferred an "electrified vehicle" over any other type of car or truck. They generally defined "electrified" as a hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle.

Just 2 percent said they wanted a pure battery electric vehicle, which reflects the small number of such cars that people are purchasing. And 37 percent of the respondents preferred vehicles with the traditional gasoline-only powertrain.

That preference for hybrid vehicles paints Generation Y consumers in the U.S. as "game changers," Giffi says.

"At nearly 80 million strong, they are one of the biggest automobile-buying market segments and the largest consumer segment since the baby boomers," he says.

About 1 of 4 new automobiles sold this year — and 40 percent of vehicles sold in the next 10 years — will be purchased by Generation Y consumers, according to the consulting firm.

Gen Y buyers say they are also looking for cars rich in technology — not unlike their smartphones, the survey found.

Almost three quarters surveyed (73 percent) said they liked touch-screen interfaces in their cars. Generation Y consumers ranked smartphone applications as highly desirable in a new automobile. They also want to be able to purchase accessories and upgrades for their automobiles on an ongoing basis in the same manner that they can add applications to their phones and tablets.

"When it comes to cars, they want something that will work with the technology that they carry around in their pockets every day," Merkle says. "To many younger folks, cellphones are just as important as the cars that they drive."

Ford's market research indicates that Generation Y buyers are most likely to purchase a compact car such as a Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze or Hyundai Elantra because they like the combination of their small size and fuel economy. But older Generation Y buyers also will look at midsize sedans and small SUVs because they might have small children and need more space.

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