More millennials interested in buying, leasing cars, study says

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DETROIT -- Contrary to the perception that Generation Y doesn't like to drive as much as previous generations, a study released today says 61 percent of U.S. millennials are expected to buy or lease a car in the next three years. That's up from 50 percent last year, according to an annual report from consulting firm Deloitte LLP.

Of Gen Y consumers, defined in the study as those born between 1977 and 1994, 23 percent expect to make their purchase in the next 12 months. And 59 percent say they believe they will be driving an alternative-engine vehicle five years from now, up from 57 percent last year.

Cost remains a barrier to many Gen Y consumers, with 80 percent of those without a vehicle saying that it is because they cannot afford it. And 75 percent cited operational and maintenance costs as factors in being unable to own a vehicle.

"Affordability is the mantra for Gen Y consumers who don't already own or lease a vehicle," Craig Giffi, Deloitte vice chairman, said during a conference call today. "Gen Y responders want lower-cost options, they want lower fuel costs, lower monthly payments and lower maintenance costs. They are also three times more likely than other generations to walk away from their vehicles if the costs become too high."

Of members of Gen Y that do own their own vehicle, only 29 percent said that they would be willing to give up their personal vehicles. Contrast that to those who do not own a vehicle and 67 percent responded that walking and public transportation meet their needs, while 40 percent borrow vehicles or utilize car-sharing services.

Gen Y consumers seem to be more accepting of car-sharing programs, with 42 percent saying that they would be willing to use such a service, but 57 percent still worried about safety, security or privacy when car-sharing.

While Gen Y consumers enjoy driving, they are interested in being within walking distance to the things they want, and 47 percent would be willing to move closer to their jobs to avoid having to commute.

Alternative powertrains

Whether they own a vehicle or not, Gen Y appears to have a soft spot for alternative powertrains, with 59 percent believing that their car will be powered by alternative methods in five years. Hybrid electric vehicles are the most popular with Gen Y, being named the most preferred type of alternative engine by 27 percent of respondents.

A majority of millennials said that they would be willing to pay more, up to $3,000, for more efficient vehicles that could drive down their fuel costs in the future.

While Gen Y may have fallen in love with the hybrid electric engine, cost remains a problem, which explains why 58 percent said that they would support government programs that reward customers that choose alternative engines.

But it's not all about the cost with Gen Y consumers. They also want safety features that can help limit distracted and hazardous driving. The study said 72 percent of Gen Y customers want technology that recognizes the presence of other vehicles on the road and 63 percent want technology that lets them know when they have exceeded the speed limit. In the 2012 survey, millennials said they would be willing to spend $2,000 for a bundle of these safety technologies.

Entertainment is also important to Gen Y, with 56 percent saying that they want technology that entertains them while they are driving and 57 percent saying that they wish it was easier to customize a vehicle's technology after purchase. More than half want their smartphone applications to be able to be connected to their vehicle.

Retail therapy

The days of dreading the car dealership may be coming to an end, with 41 percent of Gen Y consumers expressing a positive attitude toward auto dealers -- almost double previous generations, which top out at 22 percent.

Gen Y consumers expect their automotive shopping experience to be similar to their retail and technology experience, with 40 percent saying that the salesperson at the dealership has a major impact on their vehicle purchase. That's up from the 27 percent of other generations.

If an auto manufacturers want to attract Gen Y customers, then they must pay attention to their Web sites, with 52 percent of millennials saying they spend more than 10 hours researching car brands and 53 percent saying that Web sites have a major impact on their vehicle purchase and

"For baby boomers and other generations, it was just sort of assumed that buying a vehicle was going to be a somewhat unpleasant process," Deloitte's global automotive sector leader Joe Vitale said in today's conference call. "But Gen Y really doesn't view it that way. They are looking to the auto industry to collaborate with them as they move toward car ownership."

The report is based on survey responses from more than 23,000 consumers across 19 countries, including more than 2,000 United States consumers -- 677 of whom were from Gen Y. Only the U.S. results were used in the study.

You can reach Sean Gagnier at sgagnier@crain.com.


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