Teens not as focused on 1st vehicles as generations past


The impact of millennials on the auto market in coming years is a widely disputed topic — some say the demographic couldn’t care less about cars, while others emphasize that millennials view their vehicles as an extension of their personality and won’t stop purchasing cars anytime soon.

The jury is still out.

However, one recent study is saying that young people simply aren’t putting as much emphasis on that first car purchase; someting that for prior generations was a rite of passage into the adult world.

The study released by Keller Fay Group, an Engagement Labs company, in partnship with Morpace Inc., contends “America’s love affair with cars is lost on millennials.”

To draw this conclusion, the company took a look at study results, based on word-of-mouth research, which showed teenagers’ conversations about cars fell by 27 percent over the last six years. This number related to teens ages 13-17 and indicates the demographic might have a very different relationship with cars than generations before them.

The results of the study might be of particular interest to the auto industry, as 2016 is the first year when those millennials born at the beginning of the 21st century will have the opportunity to get their driver’s license. (Feeling old yet?)

"Keller Fay's research demonstrates a profound change in the marketplace which raises the question of whether this current trend will turn out to be teenagers going through a phase based on their life stage, or whether this trend will become a long-term, generational change," said Brad Fay, chief research officer at Engagement Labs and Chief Operating Officer at Keller Fay Group.

For comparison, and to see how trends are shifting among age groups, check out these stats according to study results:

Increase/decline of automobile conversations by age group in the U.S. over the past six years

  • 13-17 years: Down 27 percent
  • 18-29 years: Up 18 percent
  • 30-39 years: Up 17 percent
  • 40-49 years: up 10 percent
  • 50-59 years: no change

"For the last few years, leading automotive brands have seen a decrease in sales among older millennials and have wondered why this age group was buying fewer vehicles than expected," says Bryan Krulikowski, vice president of business development at Morpace.

"This six-year decline in daily conversations about cars among millennial teens is evidence that this generation overall does not find them as interesting as they once were to baby boomers. Given the long-term nature of this decline and the resurgence of urban areas, the trend towards ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft and autonomous vehicles will have staying power — they are not just passing fads,” he continued, cited popular ride-sharing services as a trend to watch.

Interestingly, those there seems to be an overall decline among discussions among teenagers focused on the auto industry, certain brands seem to be catching young people’s attention.

For example, Subaru, Audi and Hyundai have bucked overall trends and see increases in talk among teens, while other brands saw declines ranging from 16-42 percent.

"This data provides marketers an opportunity to pay particular attention to this demographic when developing marketing strategies and messaging in an attempt to engage them. If this downward trend is just a phase, automobiles may become relevant to this generation as they get older and have more discretionary income," Fay concluded.

Lastly, it is also important to take a look at other major industry categories results from the study, which also put the downturn in “auto talk” into perspective.

According to the study, the decline in word-of-month discussions among teens in unique to the auto industry, in particular.

For example, within the technology, quick service restaurant and casual dining, and media and entertainment industries, the study showed a significant spike in discussion, with the two categories having the most significant increase of 53 percent.

"Teens are among the most talkative demographic, and their engagement in media, technology and restaurants is skyrocketing. Therefore, we are confident that this downward trend for automotive is real and needs to be top of mind for the industry since brands can no longer rely on the car to be a symbolic measure of freedom for teens, which has helped to fuel demand in years past," noted Fay.

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