If asked which consumer group is most likely to be planning vehicle purchases in the next 12 months, you might automatically think of all those car-hungry Gen-Xers and boomers. So you may be surprised to learn that millennials account for 35% of those looking to purchase a vehicle this year, according to our research.
Statistically, that is significantly more than the number of boomers (at 19%), who plan to buy a vehicle within the year. Boomers, in fact, are the least likely age group to be in the market for a car, with 39% indicating no near-future plans to buy or lease a vehicle.
The percentage of millennials who plan to go car shopping within the next 12 months is also directionally more than Gen-Xers, at 31%.
These insights present some unexpected challenges for marketers in the automotive space. Millennials, it has been noted, tend to be more about experiences than ownership. Savvy vehicle marketers will look for ways to combine these factors and help car shoppers in this group visualize their future selves experiencing vehicle ownership.
Environmental concerns will also likely play a role in vehicle purchases for ecologically conscious millennials. At the same time, SUVs, the least environmentally friendly vehicle style, are regaining popularity in the U.S.
Marketers who want to appeal to millennials will need to strike a fine balance: to provide a satisfying automotive ownership experience that also caters to this group’s environmentally responsible side.
The In-Store Experience Matters More Than Ever
In a world where everything from groceries to household furnishings is commonly purchased online, vehicle buying is seemingly one of the few remaining hold-outs. Consumers in all age brackets surveyed prefer a hands-on-the-steering-wheel approach to vehicle shopping.
Of respondents who plan to purchase a vehicle, 81% will do so in person. Startups such as Carvana and Shift are trying to drive a trend toward online vehicle buying, but this channel has yet to become mainstream. Only 7% said they’ll be buying their vehicle online, and a scant 5% plan to use a mobile app.
One group stands out among the mobile app vehicle shoppers: the group with cash. Respondents with incomes of $80K and up are more likely (at 11%) to purchase their vehicle via a mobile app than their lower-income counterparts. Perhaps the convenience of buying via a trusted app appeals to those who have more money than time to spare.
Although buyers in all age brackets will head for a dealership when they’re ready to buy, sellers appear to be focusing on creating an optimal in-store experience for the new millennial customer.
According to Automotive News, “a wave of younger, tech-savvy consumers is forcing companies to rethink how they engage retail customers. Vehicle brands such as Lincoln, Infiniti and Lexus have used immersive technology tools in showrooms to better connect with younger customers. But trend experts contend that simply arming salespeople with tablets and other high-tech gadgets is not enough to close the deal with these new-gen consumers.”
Jody Turner, culture and trends expert from CultureofFuture.com, offers further advice. "You have to do everything today, 360-degree service," she says. "When people come in, it has to have elements of community engagement. It's not really about the big box [environment]. It's really about the more intimate community building experiences."
That’s sound advice — whatever the age group you’re trying to attract.