There has been tons of talk lately about young people, or “millennials”, and their lack of interest in cars. This summer I was working on some aspects of the Chevy Spark launch, and all we talked about was how to make the car appeal to fictional young people whom nobody has ever met. As an actual member of the “millennial generation” I can tell you that this is all extremely frustrating; a bunch of idiotic older people trying to read all sorts of fantastical reasons into an answer that is really quite simple. Now, I am obviously a car enthusiast so my own tastes are not representative of my whole generation, however many of my friends fit the norm much better. I will try and make things clear, from the perspective of someone who is actually a part of the generation in question, and not some foolish marketing person in a panic.
First off, the biggest and most important factor is that the economy has been terrible. Hello obvious, we are still in the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. My generation has been hit hardest because there are very few jobs out there right now for those of us just starting out. So naturally, if we don’t have money then how the hell can we buy a new car? Most of us were either handed down a car in high school, or our parents bought us one, and due to a lack of expendable funds, we have held onto them. A new car is a luxury for my generation at this point, and with the current economic climate, it just isn’t feasible for most people my age.
There are also many young people who chose not to drive at all. This is largely a mix of where they live and the costs involved (gas, insurance, maintenance, etc). People who live in cities don’t need a car, that has been the case for decades and it is no different today. And since many young people are moving to cities for work, the lack of demand for cars should be self-explanatory.
There is however one factor that I think has negatively affected the general interest for cars in my generation, and that is how most cars were boring when we were growing up. My parents grew up in the age of the glorious finned cars in the 50s, and then came of age during the era of Muscle Cars in the 60s. My generation grew up with bland, but reliable cars like the Accord and the Camry, great functional cars but not something that would entice our interest. However, to say that my generation purely is not interested is entirely wrong. Look at the movies, music videos, and TV shows that my generation craves; cars are a prominent part of our media, just not really the stuff we can afford. Please remember that we are the generation that came of age in the era of the Fast and the Furious, so don’t write us off quite yet because the interest is there. My generation wants something we can enjoy and be proud of, we like customization and are big on the image we project to others. So yes, we like Bentleys, Mustangs, and all the cool stuff that is way out of our budget without a decent job.
Below is a prime example, Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” video. Look at how prevalent the cars are in this video, and look at what types of cars are featured. All of them are “cool” cars with flavor, not boring A to B commuters. Because of this sort of video, all the Gen-Y girls will want a guy with a Mustang or a Corvette, and naturally all of the guys will want to be that guy with the hot cars and all the girls. When this is what young people want, a Hyundai Elantra or Toyota Corolla simply is not going to cut it, and really it shouldn’t have to.
So, why then would we spend what little money we do have on a car that we don’t really desire? That, right there people, is the issue. There are not enough affordable cars that are desirable to a generation that puts vanity over all else. Look at Facebook and Twitter, my generation is a bunch of little narcissistic brats who only want what they want, and aren’t willing to settle for less. So, while our lack of demand for cars is largely due to the terrible economy and lack of jobs, it is also somewhat due to the fact that we want more for our money. Car companies need to start making desirable cheap cars, not just reliable and functional ones. Get people to “want” your cars, and they just might start buying them when the money does eventually roll in.