Generation Y – those damn Millennials, are they really as anti-car as we are led to believe?

Some Millennials still love their cars

Some Millennials still love their cars

Sure, the numbers speak for themselves – a fifth fewer youngsters took their driving test between 2007 and 2012 and less than a third (31%) of 17-20-year-olds hold a full driving license compared to 43% in 1995, but there are still plenty who either want to own their own car or like my daughter, view it as a necessity.

Working in the automotive sector and the mother of one Generation Y or Millennial (the other two are Generation Z and apparently that’s a whole new ball game), it is with interest that I read about their attitudes towards driving and car ownership and the treatment they receive from retailers.

In a recent blog from Steve Young, managing director of the ICDP, he writes the lure of the car is fast fading. Generation Y, those born in the mid 80s to the late 90s who are now roughly aged 17-24, are more likely to desire the latest tech gadget than a car, are more conscious about pollution and have grown up with much better transport links than their parents.

However, Young also highlighted a report from Goodyear which surveyed students aged 18-30 across Europe asking their views on car ownership and 85% said they wanted to own a vehicle in 10 years.

My daughter, like many of her friends, couldn’t wait to be behind the wheel of their own car. Perhaps it was because at the time we lived in a rural village and despite being just a few miles from a mainline London commuter station, public transport to our nearest town wasn’t great for teenagers wanting to meet up and get out and about – yes, I can assure you, they still want to go out! Add in the fact that her journey to sixth form on the coach was an hour-and-a-half, it wasn’t surprising that a car was high on her agenda. We had also attended an open day at the University of Liverpool’s vet school which included a visit to the veterinary hospital a good 30 minutes from the city out in the sticks where students spend their final two years with most living in the nearby village a few miles away. When one of the students started talking about the horrors of call-outs in the dead of night and the depths of winter, I innocently asked if students sleep on site when on call. Apparently not. So how, enquired I, do students respond? The students looked at me like I had landed from Mars and said (with puzzled looks and furrowed brows), ‘by car’. Oh, of course, stupid question.

My point, though, is perhaps a young person’s decision to buy a car is based on necessity rather than desire.

Not surprising considering car ownership is a costly business with insurance still often being more expensive than the car itself and another reason often cited for the demise of the car’s popularity among this age group. The cost of the car and insurance for my daughter was similar at around £1,100 for each, luckily she won a sixth form bursary which covered the cost.

The results of a survey from auction house BCA identified price as the most important factor for 67% of this age group when buying a used car, the highest proportion for five years, compared to 58% overall. This age group is also the most likely to buy a car in the next 12-months yet they are least likely to be called by a dealer. The survey of 4,000 used car buyers found 47% received a follow-up call from the dealer but no one in the younger age group was afforded the same courtesy. When you consider more than a fifth of this age group (22%) said they would visit between three or five forecourts before making a decision, they are actually well worth the effort.

There’s a host of data which shows this group of buyers to be relatively overlooked. My partner’s 21-year-old son, having secured a decent job with a pretty impressive salary and having survived the probationary period, decided to replace his rather tired 12-year-old basic Corsa with a newer used car. The obvious choice was another Corsa, so off he went to the local Vauxhall dealership. And, yes, he was one of those annoying customers who just pitch up and expect to test drive and buy. After not being taken seriously and a little perturbed at their rather condescending attitude, he went back to the drawing board. Instead he decided to go for a car he’d always wanted and headed off to the local Mini dealership, without making an appointment, again. Cue a completely different experience and in just a few hours he became the new owner of a used Mini. He spent more than £10k and he also funded his car on finance. Why wouldn’t you take people like him seriously?!

Another survey, this time from Deloitte, sought the views of 23k people in 19 countries, and found youngsters to be open to car ownership although they were more likely to consider alternatively fuelled vehicles and they would happily turn their backs on the car if it became cost prohibitive and felt their transportation needs could be met by walking or public transport. The difference in attitudes between Generation Y and other generations, the report also tells us, is most notable in developed countries.

The mysterious Millennials continue to be the focus of commentators in the trade as well as digital experts whose insights urge retailers to wake up and take notice of this group. Sound advice it all may be, but I think it’s quite simple – don’t ignore them when they turn up unannounced on your forecourt, don’t treat them as time wasters and follow-up with a phone call or email. Take them seriously and treat them courteously and remember this is the generation more likely to share their experiences – good and bad. Look after them and they could become an ambassador for your business as well as a valued customer.

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