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Driving into the future: Youth and the automotive sector

Young adults are a notoriously difficult market to capture, especially for the automotive sector. Between 2007 and 2011 the number of vehicles purchased by 18-30 year olds fell by 30% (Fast Company). Findings from Youth State, our new research initiative, point to why cars have fallen out of favour with today’s youth.

Understanding priorities

Car ownership is simply not in line with the priorities of this generation. They are not interested in material status symbols. Instead, happiness is their most cherished value, according to over half of respondents.

Michael Plant, a happiness expert consulted as part of this research, explained that because of this generation’s financial instability they no longer see wealth and happiness as the same thing: “Young people don’t expect to be wealthier than their parents, so with that lack of expectation there isn’t a focus on becoming wealthy” he explains. They therefore look to more realistically achievable sources of happiness such as experiences.

Ditch the glamour and speed

Most common tropes of car comms miss the mark. To reach this generation of conscientious young minds, ditch the images of glamour and speed. They are less likely than previous generations to be won over by the promise of material status.

The allure of the open road is also unlikely to capture their attention; they are driven and ambitious, with a huge number choosing to describe themselves as ‘determined’.

A car, for this group, may appeal more as a tool to help them reach their destination than a vehicle for escape. These young adults know where they want to go, they just need a bit of help to get there.

Embracing individuality

Young people feel that the fun featured in a great deal of car advertising appears organized, forced and lacking in any authentic reflection of youthful enjoyment. The brands that get this formula right will be those that embrace personality and an individual sense of fun.

Indeed, a key finding from the report is that 71% of respondents want someone’s first impression of them to be based on their personality: individuality and identity are key.

Personalisation is an easy win, and has been addressed by the sector. The Fiat 500, for instance, offers over 500,000 forms of personalisation as part of the deal (Fiat). But as car design speeds into a technologically advanced future, look at what possibilities this throws up for pushing the boundaries of customization.

Reaching ‘Generation Rent’

Our most important finding is that this age group is simply not feeling empowered financially: 50% claim that their personal finances are actually holding them back from living the life they want to live right now.

This might help to explain why young people are avoiding the commitment of car ownership. But it’s not just cars they aren’t buying. ‘Generation Rent’ aren’t buying homes either, with PWC’s latest report predicting that by 2025 a ‘clear majority’ of 20-29 year olds will be renting rather than owning (The Guardian, 2015).

This age of renting, especially within big-ticket categories, isn’t just down to the issue of expense though. With technology and design leaping forward so fast, why would we commit to the permanence of owning an item when we could rent it and then upgrade at will?

Leasing a new car from the dealership is par for the course these days. However it is still discussed as a form of ownership. Greater flexibility is required to appeal to the youth market.

Acting on these insights

Aim to become a facilitator rather than simply selling. Look at innovating within the rental or part-ownership space. Group buying could be another option, with groups of friends ‘time sharing’ a car.

This kind of lateral approach is particularly necessary given that convenient tech solutions such as ZipCar and Uber continue to disrupt the car sector by putting automotive transport at people’s fingertips. Any brand that is brave enough to break with established category norms and emulate these successful and youth-friendly brands is likely to reap the benefits.

Further knowledge

These observations have profound implications for communicating with young people – in content marketing and beyond! For more insights into the diversity of 16 to 24 year olds, particularly getting beyond the myths surrounding millennials and understanding the distinct identity of the subsequent Gen Z, check out of the full Youth State report.