“Forty-six percent of drivers aged 18-24 would choose Internet access over owning a car.”

Youth-designed vehicles at Chevy's Geneva Motor Show exhibit

Chevy "Youth-Designed Concept Vehicles," Geneva

The above quote is from a New York Times story yesterday about how GM has turned to a marketing firm to figure out how to attract young people. Their interest in car ownership, or even in cars, is low and continues to sag, according to surveys.

After the bankruptcy, GM finally got religion and hired MTV’s Scratch, part of the Viacom media network, to figure out how to sell product to young people who basically (see comments on the Times story) don’t want to be sold in anything like the traditional industry ways.

Here’s how these branding geniuses think: To excite sales for the forthcoming 2013 Spark, Chevy created some new “youthful” colors,

aimed at “a 23-year-old who shops at H&M and Target and listens to Wale with Beats headphones,” said Rebecca Waldmeir, a color and trim designer for Chevrolet.

In other words, they want to use brands and stuff that appeal to the young and take their cues from how those items get marketed. This, of course, ignores the real problem: meeting the objections and, in some cases, active dislike many young people have for cars.

The article gives passing mention to the “powerful and entrenched culture” of the car industry, but the problem for potential young buyers is far more personal than that.

Kia's 2010 Super Bowl ad

Kia's 2010 Super Bowl ad

A lot of their dislike of cars stems from how they are treated in showrooms or used-car lots. The Times ran three sets of video interviews with young potential buyers here. It’s a great indictment of how cars are sold in this country—and not just to young people.

Young people get far fewer drivers’ licenses than they did 10 years ago and are driving far fewer miles. They consider cars a necessary evil, at best, and some think they are destroying the environment. Most can’t afford the cost of buying and maintaining a car.

Those in cities often prefer bikes or Vespa-type scooters or using Zipcar. They point out the horrors of traffic, the pollution, the need for better public transport, and they want innovation from the car companies, not the layered-on marketing of another MTV show.

Some of the commenters on this story felt actively insulted by GM’s approach. Wouldn’t it be nice, said one of the interviewees, if car dealers learned to use technology and showed me a web page of their salespeople so that I could find someone I could relate to before getting the high-pressure of the showroom?

In other words, how about customers prequalifying the sales staff—instead of the other way around? What a novel idea.

Will the carmakers ever learn how to sell to younger buyers, or are they lost forever?


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  1. @ Randy
    Im 24 and haven’t lived with mommy and daddy since i was 18 shows how much you know about the youth, not everyone in that age group falls into that category of staying with their parents or cant afford a new car.

  2. I don’t know anyone in that age bracket that can afford a new car.. In fact, I don’t know anyone in that age bracket isn’t living with mommy and daddy.

  3. Oh woe is the industry. After 41 years of working with youth I believe that there is nothing the car industry can do to attract buyers of that age. If you for one minute take them seriously you are in a heap of trouble because a minute later, whatever choice or response that they gave you, that same choice changes for something else. I hate to characterize youth with one swell foop but they are so different that you have to equip yourself with antennae and a translator to interact with them. The only thing that is a constant with them is change. In my opinion it would be a great mistake to specifically target youth, the successful, the techie or the elderly.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I loved these young ‘uns and had to in order to last as long as I did. The only thing that I found that works to grab their attention is to be honest, be interesting and be truthful. There the carmakers are in deep doodoo, especially in stereotyping women. Whether you believe that or not, you better not show one sign of patronage or you won’t sell a car. There is a simple message here for carmakers: build it and they will come (after the testosterone and job issues are addressed). Some times the best marketing is no marketing or a different kind of marketing (see Mazda’s great job with the old Japanese father and his modern Japanese son).

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