By on March 23, 2012

“We tried to teach dealers how to calibrate conversations,” Mr. Martin said. “Stop trying to be cool and give them the fist pump. They can tell you don’t get it.

Journalism profs would admonish us for “burying the lede”, or hiding the most important information way down in the story, rather than putting it at the front where it’s easily accessible. Amy Chozick of the New York Times put that gem at the very end of her article on how General Motors is hiring consultants from MTV, including Ross Martin, quoted above, to help their brand connect with young people. Mr. Martin, take your own advice.

Instead, the article opens like this

Ross Martin, 37, is a published poet and a former drummer in an alternative rock band. Wearing Nike high tops and loose-fitting jeans, he is the kind of figure who wouldn’t attract a second glance on the streets of Brooklyn, where he lives.

37 years old is hardly over the hill, but is a 37 year-old really in touch with what people born in 1996 really like? Do they even know what a cassette tape is. Martin, meanwhile, was a “drummer in an alternative rock band”. Nirvana is now played on my classic rock station, and GM wants him to sell cars to a generation that thinks “cooking” is a hip-hop dance, not a reason to go to the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market.

He and his team are trying to help General Motors solve one of the most vexing problems facing the car industry: many young consumers today just do not care that much about cars.

False. The article’s commenters cite everything from expense, to the environment, to social media as reasons why youth have abandoned the automobile. The truth is, they never have.Young people care about cars. Yes, we are broke, gas is more expensive, we care about the environment even though we consume, consume, consume like never before. We still need cars. We still don’t like taking transit, if we can at all. If one of our friends has a car, we will ask them for a lift home, no matter how much pro-cycling-and-walkable-cities gospel we preach. If we’re going to buy a car, it better be worth it. Worth the expense of and hassle. A Sonic is a nice car. It’s not worth it.

Young people are buying used S2000s. Young people are awaiting the launch of the Scion FR-S like it’s The Second Coming. Young people would do terrible things for an Audi R8. Young people do terrible things, financially speaking, to lease a BMW 328i or Infiniti G37 or Mercedes C-Class. But, here’s the kicker. Young people do not want any part of what’s being sold to them as affordable transportation

Last summer, Mr. Martin and his team temporarily transformed part of the G.M. lobby into a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle, with graffiti on the walls and skateboards and throw pillows scattered around. As part of its “Millennial-Con,” Scratch brought in viral video stars like Sergio Flores, known as the Sexy Sax Man, a musician with a mullet and a denim jacket.

Do they know that a lot of young people like the Cruze precisely because it doesn’t look like it starts at $16,800? Don’t believe me? Look at the Cruze sales numbers. Even better than the Focus. Luxury goods have trickled so far down the social ladder that even a girl who works retail for minimum wage can buy a $900 Louis Vuitton purse. I said “can buy” not “afford” so don’t worry about a $12,000 Spark. Make something that looks like an Audi S5, base it on the Cruze platform (go ahead, it’s ok, most of them won’t know, and the ones that do will be go back to playing Gran Turismo anyways) and you’re half way there. The Code and Tru concepts were a step in the right direction. Don’t listen to the critics. They’re old men. They just want a Cruze diesel wagon with a 6-speed sitck.

They studied a collage loaded with images of hip products like headphones created by Dr. Dre, a tablet computer and a chunky watch. The board inspired new Chevrolet colors, like “techno pink,” “lemonade” and “denim,” 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. This rainbow of youthful hues will be available on the Spark this summer.

Young people would rather get herpes than go to the “Sonic Lounge” at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. Ask Ford how their “Fiesta Movement” worked out, without Ford mentioning how many “social media impressions” the car got. Car companies that indulge in these silly campaigns are like an obese person trying to lose weight by switching from Coke to fruit juice when what’s really needed is hard physical exercise and most importantly, self-discipline.

If I had the secret to marketing to youth, I’d probably flying into Mustique right now. But I do. Ready for it? We want to buy cars marketed to older, more succesful people. We always have, we always will. Ask a young person,full of ambition and promise, trying to get ahead in the world with a crappy job that doesn’t pay much, what car they prefer – as in, what car suits their self-image better; a Hyundai Veloster, or a Hyundai Elantra. One looks like a child’s toy. The other looks like a Mercedes-Benz if you squint just a little. And yes, I’ve done this field test many times before. I know a few people with Elantras, Sonatas and even Rios. Nobody I know has bought a Veloster.

GM, it’s a good thing that young people don’t read newspapers and this article appeared in the New York Times. Your target demo is already making fun of this article, your marketing people and your lame efforts on Facebook. Vehicle lead times and social trends move at such different paces that they will never intersect and you will never be able to catch them. Stop this silly endeavor. Fire the marketers. Let the engineers and product types do their thing. We can tell you don’t get it.


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152 Comments on “Generation Why: They Can Tell You Don’t Get It...”

  • avatar

    Well, some people aspire to look like the rich. But some aspire to be like the poor. Which still makes you right; the richies will want to look great in an A4, while the poor-types will buy a used car that looks like something Nick Nolte drove in 48 Hours.

    • 0 avatar

      You have a point Bryan, but I know I could easily afford the $400 BMW payment but I was brought up to save my money and only engage in limited debt I can afford. I’ll happily drive my used Grand Prix GT for years while those people are filing bankruptcy for playing Richie Rich.

  • avatar
    fintail jim

    The last sentence says it all: “We can tell you don’t get it” and any attempt on those of earlier generations to appear cool just comes off as LAME. “a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle” puleeeeze!

    It was that way when I was a young adult 30 years ago, it’s that way now (trust me, my kids who are 22 and 19 years-of-age let me know it’s so) and will always be that way. I don’t know the best way to reach this audience but it is certainly NOT by trying to be “cool.” When someone does that he just comes off looking like a dork. Do they still say “dork?” :-)

    • 0 avatar

      “a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle” puleeeeze!

      Yeah, Starbucks institutionalized that decades ago, which killed the cool-factor long ago. (I’m in my early 30s.)

      Hypothetical 19 year old: “Wow, this car ad looks just like the Starbucks where my mom pissed away my college fund when I was a kid!”

      • 0 avatar

        “Hypothetical 19 year old: “Wow, this car ad looks just like the Starbucks where my mom pissed away my college fund when I was a kid!””


      • 0 avatar

        I know there isn’t really anything to read into but it hit me as an appropriate statement for a 19 year old to make.

        “Wow, this car ad looks just like the Starbucks where my mom pissed away my college fund when I was a kid!” –

        How was it ever “my colled fund”?

  • avatar

    If they can make a cruze look kinda like an S5, and maintain 80% of the mileage and most of the interior volume….

    I’m in.

    (Cue response for diesel hatchback, which I would also buy).

  • avatar

    I’m way past the demo you are talking about, I’m in my late 40’s and I love cars like the Sonic and Spark, love the Fiat 500, love my little Protege5, anything that’s a hatchback and small to smallish is my thing and it’s always been that way, even though I grew up on large 6 person American sedans. I’ll even go for a small wagon as long as it handles decently and my P5 is nearly a small wagon and handles like a good handling car should.

    The sedans have never appealed to me – ever. They are better now that the stoopid bench and column mounted shifter has been supplanted by a console and buckets (thank God).

    I like my cars sporty looking with good driving dynamics but they don’t have to be blisteringly fast though.

    That photo of the Sonic, how it’s taken with the rear door open makes it look like someone exaggerated the proportions a bit by stretching the front doors and scrunching the rear doors here even though I doubt that was what was done.

    However, like the color but not the flat finish, make it a glossy finish with clearcoat and it’d look fabulous and add some of that color as an accent inside instead of the typical all black and I’d seriously consider it.

    What GM – and others should be doing is listening to the young people and HEAR what they are saying and I think they’d figure out that they are trying too hard and totally missing the point by assuming kids want small when they want an Impala or older full sized Caprice instead.

    • 0 avatar

      I know many people who own or want to own a Mazda3 hatchback. Hatchbacks are far from dead. Young people just want the right one.

      • 0 avatar

        “I know many people who own or want to own a Mazda3 hatchback. Hatchbacks are far from dead.”

        The Canadian market is a sort of middle ground between American and European tastes. (Perhaps the higher fuel taxes have something to do with the latter.)

        Hatchbacks are still a small niche in the United States. They usually have to come blended with some other flavor (i.e. CUVs, Prius hybrids) in order for them to be desirable to the American masses.

      • 0 avatar

        Last stats I saw had the Focus 5-door at over 40% of sales in the US. My guess is that the Mazda3 is similar. I don’t quite consider that a niche, but I don’t think the market is terribly underserved, either. I think there’s room for a few more hatches, but not a flood of them.

      • 0 avatar

        @redav: ” I think there’s room for a few more hatches, but not a flood of them.”

        The question is: grownup hatches like the Prius, or kiddie hatches like the Sonic or the Cavilier?

        As a Prius owner, I have to admit that part of its success must be that it’s a hatchback for grownups. The green halo sells the car, the practicality and low running costs keep them happy.

    • 0 avatar
      W-30 two scoops of awesome.

      Hush, as a 25 year old I would kill for the bench and column shift to return (at least as an option). Nothing like the thought of rolling down the highway with your arm around a lovely lady(or you know, something a little more R rated….).

  • avatar

    “a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle”

    That would work. For the tail-end of Generation X.

  • avatar

    @derek Design and Product. It sounds like you’re channeling your inner Bob Lutz. Maximum Bob says a lot of crazy things, but I strongly agree with him that design and product takes precedence over fluffy BS.

  • avatar

    Just copy what ford did with the fiesta…the young d-bags that never look up because they are constantly texting on their latest i-phonelet will buy them in droves.

  • avatar

    Hey! I want a Veloster, and I’m only… DAMNIT!

    We always want to be something we’re not. My toddlers are not interested in blocks and Fisher Price, they want to play with my phone and my wrenches.

    Now that I’m early 30’s and semi-established, I want the kind of car that made me look immature when I was early 20’s.

    Derek’s got it right on though: Mature styling, cheap, durable. Everything else can be fixed inexpensively by the owner.

    • 0 avatar

      “Mature styling, cheap, durable”

      This is exacly what is needed. I am 23 so I fit perfectly in this demographic except that I sway towards the enthusiast side so my opinion doesn’t count for the masses, however, I am friends with lots of those masses:

      25YO Female just bought new Jeep Liberty – conservative (even classic) styling. Some people say that it looks like a Range Rover (I don’t see it).

      Another 25YO Female just bought a new Jeep Compass – looks like a new Grand Cherokee. Basically it looks like a more expensive car (same with the Liberty I guess)

      27 YO Male has a new A4 (he makes A LOT of money)

      If I could buy a second car (I am not getting rid of my Wrangler, no way no how) I would be very interested in the new GLI. It looks fancier than it is (some may seem this as plain) plus it is somewhat fun to drive.

      Moral of the story is that Gen Y (or Why) wants something that looks like we paid a lot of money for it, even if it actually isn’t that nice (I am not too impressed with the Compass but it sure does look nice on the outside)

      Take from this what you will and I hope it didn’t come off as some 23 year old just rambling on and on

      • 0 avatar

        When I see a Liberty or a Compass on the road, “this person paid a lot of money for this car” is nowhere near the first thing I think of…more like “this person wanted a new car but their credit is so awful that even the Mitsubishi dealer wouldn’t sell to them.”

      • 0 avatar

        Moppymop: is the financing significantly easier with Chrysler? If someone has bad credit, they wouldn’t likely be getting their financing through the manufacturer programs anyway, rather through Chase or whomever.

        I see someone who likes jeeps but needs something more practical. Or comes from a Mopar family… Or has a relative who owns a dealership.

        There was mention of BWM 3-series being aspirational. I know they are popular cars for people who love to drive, but most of the ones I see are autoboxes… It seems to be the official car I the “leased it to pretend I’ve made it.” crowd.

        And TONS of them in middle-market apartments. I live in an upscale apartment complex, and it’s mostly pretty average cars. Lots of Civics and Accords and Escapes. Go to a slum, and it’s the same. Ads covered in chrome crap. But the middle-ish complexes… Those are always FILLED with leased entry-level luxury cars. It’s a head-scratcher!

        (I used to live by Pebble Beach. The cars with the “Del Monte Forest” shield on the grille were more often than not very average to low-end cars.)

      • 0 avatar

        “Mature styling, cheap, durable”

        This is about how I’d describe all of the good cars of the 80’s and 90’s. “Mature Styling” went away years ago though.

      • 0 avatar

        So you saying Gen Y wants to return to the spirit of the 1970s?

        “Moral of the story is that Gen Y (or Why) wants something that looks like we paid a lot of money for it, even if it actually isn’t that nice (I am not too impressed with the Compass but it sure does look nice on the outside)”

        Faux cheap shoddy luxury for everyone?

        I would say just about every generation wants nice stuff, that looks expensive. But I’m not too sure of the truth of gen y wanting nice looking, expensive looking, stuff that isn’t really nice. Otherwise, I’m sure there is a furniture store in every town USA that specializes in Chinese made furniture..

      • 0 avatar

        “I’m sure there is a furniture store in every town USA that specializes in Chinese made furniture”

        Not Chinese, Swedish. And it’s called Ikea. It looks nice and functions, but it’s not really that nice. And my apartment could be an ad for it.

        But I digress. I see now how my wording was wrong. When I said not that nice, I meant compared to the car’s upscale doppelganger (Compass to Grand Cherokee, Liberty to Range Rover or LR4)

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been amazed at the number of Veloster’s I’ve seen around town. I saw my first cruze today on the highway. I’ve seen plenty of ford fiesta’s as well. I’m 33, in Austin, TX and I don’t like coffee shops. I mean who would seriously rather sit in a coffee shop then a great bar?

      • 0 avatar

        I saw one these things in a parking garage the other day, I wasn’t even sure what it was until I got up close. I can’t stand these A and B-segment clown cars, they are really not much more fuel efficient than your traditional Cavalier/Escort/Civic/Corrola, are so small I doubt you’ll survive a serious accident no matter what NHSTA says, and I swear they are designed to be obnoxious just like all of the other gen-Y targeted products (Mac anything, Hollister clothes, Facebook etc). I never thought I’d say this but I’d rather see more hybrid technology in more normal size cars on the road than those deathtraps.

      • 0 avatar

        Today my Mum told me she wants a Veloster.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m in my early 30s and with you on the re-living our 20s again, but the Veloster isn’t it for me, it would feel more like the prison sentence K-car I had at 16. I want a pony car, or Vette, or something I couldn’t afford the insurance on then :)

    • 0 avatar
      jonny b

      I’m also approximately DAMMIT! years old and I also want a Veloster. What’s wrong with us dude?

    • 0 avatar

      What, you don’t want to enter conversations about the brand? My God, kids these days. When I was your age I had to hike to the GM dealer and chew tobacco and hand tools to Mike when the boss wasn’t around in order to enter conversations about the brand. Here you are having conversations about the brand handed to you, but nooooo… not good enough. Spoiled, I tellya.

  • avatar

    Dear lord, this was one of the most painful, unintentionally hilarious articles I’ve ever read. True story: as soon as I finished it, I told myself “This HAS to be on TTAC by now,” and here it is. Graffiti-covered brick walls, skateboards and denim? Did they reassemble the set from the Opposites Attract music video? Is MC Skat the image you’re trying to project to today’s 18-year-old?

    Listen, Detroit: the reason 22-year-olds aren’t buying your cars today isn’t because your cars suck – the cars themselves are actually pretty great from a historical perspective. 22-year-olds aren’t buying your cars because they’re graduating with $80,000 in college debt into an abysmal economy where 400 people might apply for the same entry-level position that pays $28k a year with crappy benefits and little chance of promotion. If they have any money left over after rent and spaghetti, they’re going to spend it on FiOS and a data package for their iPhone. And if, by some miracle, they landed a job that pays $40k, and they live in the suburbs and need their own wheels, why would they ever buy new when they your (well, Toyota’s) excellent offerings from a dozen years ago can be had for $4,000? $16k for a starter car may as well be $160k for a starter home: it’s just not on the radar screen.

    Just sit back and wait for them to grow up a bit; they’ll be 31 and in the car market soon enough. At which point a 6-year-old 328i will look a heck of a lot better than a “techno pink” Sonic.

    • 0 avatar

      “22-year-olds aren’t buying your cars because they’re graduating with $80,000 in college debt…”

      True about the trend. The article at the link below says that student debt is up 2.5X during the past 10 years. Further, with all the trash degrees being given out these days (women’s studies, social justice, etc.) a lot of graduates find themselves unemployable or working out of their field for minimum wage.

    • 0 avatar

      30 y o single male.

      When I was 19, dad cosigned on a loan for me to buy my first new car, a ’01 Honda Civic coupe. I swapped cars a few times along the way, a few used, a few new. At 30, I have a ’11 Scion tC.

      The funny thing: at 19, a 14,000 dollar car didn’t seem like a huge deal while making $8/hr part time… Then again, I was going to college and living at home. At 30, I’m hardly a high earner (my salary comes out to around $35/hr) and I’d be uncomfortable buying a car for more than $20,000. As it stands, the tC is my only debt, and the $350/mo I pay on that feels like a burden.

      (I do pay child support, so it cuts me down to around $50k/year)

      Makes me wonder who is buying all of the $25+k cars out there… Especially with the data on credit card debt… There must be a lot of folks with FAR more appetite for payments than me!!!

      • 0 avatar

        afflo, I agree wholeheartedly with your wonder as to how people can afford the cars they’re buying. I’m 31, married, and have a salary well into the six figures. I also have student loans of my own and a wife in school, and we’re trying to save for a down payment on a house, but no kids and no significant other expenses. I felt guilty spending $20k on my three-year-old Acura last year (every dollar towards that car is basically five dollars less I have to spend on my future house) but talked myself into it to help me survive my commute. If I feel this is the most car I can comfortably afford, how are kids making a fifth my salary supposed to spend the same amount of money on a car with a steeper depreciation curve? Nuts.

      • 0 avatar

        Scion seems to have been very successful in selling cars to “Gen Y”, especially the tC. Their formula seems to be a good Toyota reputation, a good value, a simple buying experience, and a wide range of accessories (even if the buyers don’t actually customize their cars, they are at least attracted by the potential).

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Very much agreed Astigmatism.

      “$16k for a starter car may as well be $160k for a starter home: it’s just not on the radar screen”

      This is why I love TTAC, people are real.

    • 0 avatar

      ‘transformed part of the G.M. lobby into a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle, with graffiti on the walls and skateboards and throw pillows scattered around’

      ‘Painful’ was the adjective that sprang to mind when I read that too, although I think it strays close to ‘agonizing’.

  • avatar

    I would sum it up as: Nobody wants to act their age.

    Just as young people want more mature cars, older folk want “young people” cars. You know who I see driving Velosters? 40+ men. You know who I see driving sonics? 60+ women. Kids buy used, or if their parents are well off, they get entry level luxury or mustang types. My first car was a well used Saab. I have yet to buy a car in my “demographic” (though my demographic is starting to slip into my current car…

    • 0 avatar

      Heh… So am I a very mature well-integrated human being for buying a pretty much age-appropriate car, or am I just an old fart woh’s so much of an old fart that he doesn’t even care he’s revealing he’s an old fart?

      (Last of the boomers / first of the Xes, bought a 2009 SEAT Exeo 9 months ago.)

      Heh… Guess it’s pretty much the same thing; it’s all in how you look at it.

  • avatar

    As a 50-something retired guy, I hesitate to comment since Derek has already correctly pointed out I have no idea WTF I’m talking about here. Fortunately ( eh?) That warning won’t stop me any more than it will stop GM’s marketeer’s .

    I’ve noticed the ‘different attitude’ towards cars among my friends’ and family’s college kids. One male junior is very proudly cruising around campus in an 04 3-series coupe. He’s one of us- a throwback. Our niece of the same age group could care less about cars. She thinks of them as an expensive necessity at best, and mildly bad things at worst. Over the last year the vehicles she expressed an interest in were (in this order), a Vespa, a Jeep, a Mini. She actually only knows one thing, drummed into her by family and peers I guess: no Fords, Chevys, or Chryslers, except trucks.

    When it came down to ‘gotta have one and pay for it with my own money’ she went with a 94 Honda the only car that didn’t make her feel nervous about problems. It was what all her girl friends recommended.

    I think that the feeling of freedom and power that my generation felt from cars (the excitement of flooring a Camaro) has long since died. Cars have no novelty for this generation any more than a microwave. Peers are not so much judged on their choice of vehicles as an expression of success but as an expression of chosen life-style. To have a plain car seems to indicate sensibility rather than lack of success. My niece has taken a trip to Italy and another to Hawaii (on her own money) and feels like car payments would hinder her lifestyle. None of her friends care what they (or she) drive(s).

    I buy Derek’s argument of Elantra being successful while Veloster means high school. I also agree that the era of the “Levi’s Gremlin” et al is gone forever….. “Fast and Furious” wasn’t a peek into today’s culture – it was a nostalgia film like “American Graffiti”. Think about it. How many coffee can exhausts have you seen lately? How many ‘Super Civics? The times, they are a changin’.

    • 0 avatar

      @lokki well said. I think Jay Leno makes a good point that there will always be two camps of automotive thinking: no-hassle efficient personal transport, art & performance. While most of my friends think that manual transmissions and V8’s will go the way of the dodo, I still plan on owning an Mustang GT. It’s not because it’s practical, or fuel efficient, but rather because I’m in love with the history and the styling.

    • 0 avatar

      >>>Cars have no novelty for this generation any more than a microwave.

      I agree. I don’t know if my family is representative, but my oldest nephew, 29, who works vetting new TV programs in Hollywood, has been driving my late parents’ 1995 Volvo 940 wagon for the last decade or so. My second nephew, 18, a college freshman, just got an ’03 Honda Accord coupe. Reliability was a big deal in that purchase (by my sister and her husband). My third nephew, 14, has very little interest in cars and has turned down my offers to teach him to drive, but he recently got excited about some car because it came with free wifi. My niece, 25, in grad school in Manhattan, doesn’t have a car.

      • 0 avatar

        I think it all depends on where you live. I’m 28 and live in LA, and people absolutely, positively, HUGELY judge you on your car. If you’re driving a 10-year-old Accord, people don’t think you’re sensible. They think you’re poor.

      • 0 avatar

        People who judge you by the car you drive are idiots. People who worry about what others think of the car they drive are also idiots.

    • 0 avatar

      “She actually only knows one thing, drummed into her by family and peers I guess: no Fords, Chevys, or Chryslers, except trucks.”

      Loved it when people say they’ll never buy a Chrysler but would love a Jeep. Uhh, we are one and the same.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe I was misinformed but most of the anti-Chrysler people I have known always seem to have a ‘but’ argument for Jeep. I think in the 90s this may have been true since the 4.0 I6 was originally an AMC engine and the basic Cherokee design an AMC throwback, as was the Wrangler up until that point. Today I would agree with you a bit more about the ‘its a Chrysler’ argument, but if you look at the Grand Cherokee it shares its current design with the Benz M Class IIRC. The Compass/Patriot are Mitsubishi designs, and I believe the Liberty was also influenced by the Germans (maybe not I can’t recall for sure). Maybe the best argument to make is, its a Chrysler, but they pump a good bit of their R&D into its models, probably more so than the Chrysler/Dodge equilivelent, because they know it was Jeep who saved their butts time after time with profit when the other divisions were in the red.

    • 0 avatar

      When I went back to college a couple years ago, I noticed that too. Kids just don’t give a shit about cars anymore. When I was their age, practically everyone I knew got their license and a car (usually a hand-me-down from the family, but still) the instant they turned 16. I remember counting down the days until I could finally get my license, only to get held up for 2 weeks because my parents couldn’t find my birth certificate. I was *furious*.

      Now, most younger students I’ve talked to don’t own a car or even have any interest in one. Hell, I met a lot of 18-20 year olds that didn’t even bother to get their licenses! I think a lot of it comes down to the economy–high school students are competing with middle-aged people for minimum wage jobs, parents can’t afford to help pay for another car, etc. Helicopter-parenting-induced Stockholm syndrome seems to be another major factor.

      What’s really weird is how much things have changed in so little time– I’m only 30; I graduated high school in 1999. “Car culture” seems to have died in just 10 years. Auto manufacturers are probably shitting themselves now.

  • avatar

    So to summarize, the yoots want a bmw or a mercedes like most people, they just can’t afford them.

    • 0 avatar

      I just finished reading “Buying In” by Rob Walker last night. Most of the book talks about a segment of the population that doesn’t respond to direct marketing, but do respond to the relatively new “murketing” that Derek is describing above, which you’d never recognize as advertising. The goal is seeking opinion-leaders of lifestyle tribes who influence the consumption patterns of thousands, who’ll eventually get locked into your brand and be your advocate, even if that product eats ignition coils or churns out rolling vanilla.

      Rob also talks about stuff like brand highjacking (eg. Timberland by the hip hop crowd, Honda Civic by car tuners), the rise of rebellious brands by those searching for authenticity and who don’t want to be marketed to (which is probably why the Sonic compaign will fail), and the importance of seeking the cognoscenti who send signals only to others “in the know”.

      The book itself is rather boring, but the take-away message I got was that people surround themselves with who they are or want to be. There’s multiple paths to marketing, and different techniques work better for certain products and niches than others.

  • avatar

    Stop marketing cars to young people. Young people don’t have any money. And as Derek said, if they did have money they’d already be driving an Audi.

    • 0 avatar

      If the economy continues to lose jobs permanently – and I have no reason to expect it won’t – then we can expect whole groups of people who won’t be able to afford big boy toys, then new cars and then eventually houses that they “own” (once the payments are done). More permanent renters? Or people buying tiny 1940s 28×28 houses b/c they want to own and can’t afford no better? A future rise in the plainest and most basic cars as people abandon luxury for value?

      We continue to replace folks with computers, we continue to automate factories, and the service sector only needs so many warm bodies to work customers service jobs or serve food – and if the economy should get bad enough long term – people will quit eating out and cook dinner at home b/c they have to. Cascading changes to the economy – see?

      My father’s generation could afford houses and big boy’s toys on one income. 30 years later my wife and I are challenged to afford the same with two incomes and we don’t spend big money on cellphones ($15/per two months) or subscription TV ($24/month) or excessive shopping. I would not be surprised to see my kids working hard just to afford what my wife and had for a first house and a lifetime of 100K mile cars unless the economy changes drastically – and that’s with a college education and living at home during their college years.

      This isn’t just a bash on Obama or Romney – to me they are pretty much the same thing – representatives to the givers of the largest donations. This is simply saying that we can only automate so much and computerize so much before capitalism quits working well for a good portion of our society. I’d like to think that as one set of jobs become obsolete another will be created but I personally haven’t seen evidence of that yet. The problem is that all people are not created equally so not everyone can be a brain surgeon or an IT specialist (and those jobs can/are being outsourced to India).

      Alot of these problems would be solved by bringing manufacturing back to the USA (a small part of the fix for example) and encouraging “capitalism with a conscience” with an understanding that the top level folks get rich by making investments around the world. They don’t care where the jobs are that make them rich, their investments move easily back and forth across borders. However at the the middle class I know best and not the one that Romney defines as $200K-$250K but more like the $45K to $90K folks – – – if my neighbors are struggling then I have to worry about our safety or the safety of our things.

      My neighborhood is a good one full of professionals and retirees but within a mile or two are people struggling to get by with an clapped out 80s vehicle, single wide trailer, an income that they barely groceries with. They are some of the former factory employees of the factories that have closed up and moved overseas during the past 20 years.

      Their kids go to school with my kids. Once those people spend several years in abject poverty they’ll either get smart (teach their kids to get smart, but not yet) or they’ll start stealing their neighbors blind. Personally I’d like to see folks make smarter choices and to have economic opportunities to aspire to but again, we are not all born with the same IQ. Some folks are best suited/most comfortable with repetitive tasks or physical labor. I work with these folks and some don’t have any aspirations to learn how to be a machinist or a computer tech or an accountant and a goodly number of them couldn’t do the schooling.

      Perhaps cheap import low, low everday prices isn’t a good option long term b/c eventually even those customers can’t afford those prices?

      The next couple decades will be interesting ones – regardless of the outcome of the coming election. Do politicians give up their factually flimsy campaign speeches and get down to business? Do voters demand real action and an end to the D.C. gridlock and business as usual? Do we consumers demand the corporate “overlords” (LOL) employ folks here in the USA with our dollars? I vote with my dollars just like everyone else and these days I want to know more about what my dollars support than ever before.

  • avatar

    So, to summarize it:

    If you want young people to buy your cars, don’t try to make them look trendy and don’t make lame attempts to be cool.

    Build stuff that’s inexpensive, reliable, and fun to drive. That way, somebody will buy it, young or old.

    (mid-20s engineer, drives a ’99 Corvette. next car: nd miata, ft-86, elise. dream car: radical sc3 powered by a 2500cc two-stroke)

  • avatar

    Speaking as a 21 year old male, I would never by a GM product….well I should say another one. Since I’m a uptight, unlucky with women, wine drinking intellectual I drive a Saab 9-3 SE which I love to death. I would qualify this as a young person car. I have no desire to drive the cars that are considered “popular” with people my age. I don’t want a car that may be considered “stylish” but is dynamically poor. I want a engaging driving experience, it doesn’t have to be a flashy car with lots of buttons to push, it just has to handle well and have a degree of power. I would drive a used Saab, BMW, or Audi any day before I’d dream of buying GM’s latest mass market crap. I’d rather pay the repair bills for those cars than the lease or payment on a new GM product.
    GM killed the one brand they had that held any appeal to me, a Sonic that is some neon color with a digital dash isn’t a good alternative Detroit.

  • avatar

    Marketers waste their time trying to pigeon hole their products into certain demographics. I have sold Velosters to young and old, straight and gay, men and women. Same with Accents, Elantras, and Sonatas. Build a great cars, price it right, and explains its virtues concisely in the commercials. Forget the rest.

  • avatar

    Well written, Derek, because it hits at a universal truth: if you try too hard…people know you’re trying too hard. Let the product sell itself.

    The worst thing you can do is to try and oversell your product or to gloss over its deficiencies with a slick marketing campaign. People see right through that.

  • avatar

    Prior to the start of the “great recession”, Toyota managed to build Scion into a brand with the lowest average age of buyer in the industry. For a time, Mitsubishi did well with using loud styling in order to appeal to younger buyers.

    Every up-and-coming generation wants to feel special and unique and smarter than their elders, but guess what? You’re not. You, too, are a target market.

    Just because GM hasn’t figured out how to do it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. But it isn’t easy. A lot of marketing efforts fall flat, regardless of the target market.

    It seems like a fluffy job, but marketing is tough to do well. The professionals often don’t get it right, no matter who they’re targeting.

    • 0 avatar

      You are absolutely right. People who say- “just let the product sell itself” are only right to a certain point. As an aside, the Scion TC buyers’ median age is something like 24! So it is definitely true that you CAN market to young people successfully.

      • 0 avatar

        “People who say ‘just let the product sell itself’ are only right to a certain point.”

        I think that most people who claim that products should sell themselves have never been charged with the mission of separating people from their money.

        Most things, including good things, don’t sell themselves. Even a guerilla-style marketing effort is still a marketing effort.

        I think that it’s fair to say that a lot of consumers like to believe that they are immune to marketing, yet aren’t. The seller’s job is to fool them into believing that they are special and unique and reached the purchase decision themselves. Employing tactics that don’t look like tactics is an art, and not everyone is good at it.

  • avatar

    This article reminded me of the Simpsons episode where Homer tried to be cool and connect with his kids.

    “First of all, it’s par-TAY, and we wouldn’t par-TAY with you if you were the last Dad on earth.”

    GM: stop trying to sell cars to younger people. They are broke.

    Unless of course you’re trying to market cars in this way to make the parents THINK this is what their kids want, and buy the cars for them?

    That’s funny too.

    With this economy and looming, inescapable student loan debt and the eventual repercussions of ‘not making things anymore’, the future for those under 30 is likely in 4-6 year old used cars.

    GM, can you work miracles there?

    Or will your demographic just have to wait until your cars are that old and they can afford them?

    At least your current crop is better built; in 4-6 years they’ll be a decent car to own.

    • 0 avatar


      • 0 avatar

        +100. Youths buy used. How do you design and sell a car that will be attractive to young people when it is five years old, and who do you sell it to?
        What I will never understand is GMs attitude to old folk and Buicks. They have desperately tried to make Buicks “cool” and hence less attractive to the ancient – the only demographic that is growing and has money. They want silence, smoothness and armchairs. Give it to them. (or Lexus and Citroen will)

  • avatar

    Maybe they looked at scion sales numbers and realized that the way to sell to middle-aged buyers was to hire thirtysomethings with orders to make something for youth.

    That works. Making new cars cost-effective vs. used doesn’t generate nearly the profits (assuming you can get in the black at all). Convincing the bean counters that you aren’t cannibalizing your overpriced “old peoples cars” is the hard part.

  • avatar

    How about a cool looking vehicle that runs on electric so it’s “different” and is priced to sell to people who are just starting out?

  • avatar

    Even the test drive is being reimagined, since young consumers find riding in a car with a stranger creepy, Scratch said.

    Note: that is 100% accurate. One of the many reasons I’m a lifelong VAG customer is because when I went to buy my first car in college, they tossed me the keys and said, “Take a long drive and come back whenever.”

    I hate, hate, hate, to have to drive around with some moron who knows less about the car than I do.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 21, and my local VW dealer let me do exactly the same thing. They asked me what model, trim level, and even options I wanted in the car I would test drive. “Here are the keys, take a drive around, stop for some coffee.” Of course, I didn’t want to spill anything in their new Passat!

      Or maybe I just went to a very good VW dealer…

    • 0 avatar

      lucky you… I’m guessing my appearance draws the suspicion of most car dealers or something, because I’ve only been thrown the keys on one buying experience – in which I travelled 2500 miles to buy the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah listening to the typical salesman drivel while trying to listen to the car and try out the features, etc. Can get quite annoying.

      I did have a mazda dealer try to give me the keys to a fully loaded Mazda6 for the afternoon, but I just wasn’t ready to buy that day. I was blown away by the offer of the keys for the afternoon, as I’ve never had a dealership do that before.

  • avatar

    In the words of Jed Clampett, “Pitiful. Just Pitiful.”

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I read the article and laughed all the way through it for a variety of reasons. 1. Why would you hire Brooklyn hipster wannabes (i.e., people who don’t drive) who live in a city where cars are expensive to park, insure, fill with fuel, PLUS tolls …. Read the comments after the article. That’s indicative of how people in New York City view automobiles.

    2. We only have so much time in our lives for so many outside interests. At this point, “cars” have to compete with new phones, new videogame titles, a gazllion TV shows on a buhzillion channels, watches, a gazillion designer clothing labels, a myriad of alcoholic beverage choices, sporting event tickets, and leisure travel to places that used to be completely inaccessible because of politics, expensive plane fare, etc. Oh, and $5 cups of coffee.

    And all that, they gotta spend money on. And for what it’s worth, talking about your new car “at the water cooler” gets old after a week or two. So you don’t get a whole lotte (sic) bang-for-the-buck out of a $500 per month car payment. Instead, you sort out a $200 per month car payment and free up that $300 per month for other stuff.

    Cars are a lot like that old toy that consisted of a hoop and a stick and making the hoop roll.

    That’s the reality GM needs to face. The responses about student loans, also have significant merit.

    But I must also admit, when I read the article, I asked myself, “How many of the folks I know actually tip their hands and tell their competitors whom they are hiring as consultants?”

    And while we’re at it, where the hell is Faith Popcorn and Clotard Repaille?

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Flawed assumptions are being made that the younger buyers are a monolithic bloc.

  • avatar

    I’m from Generation Why, and I disagree with Derek.

    5 years ago I was a part of a thriving car club, one of many in the Connecticut region. These clubs were full of young people devoted to one kind of car or another, from DSM’s to Mustangs to Miatas.

    These clubs are, by and large, dead. The forums, if they’re still up, are ghost towns. Hell, I stopped going to my club when the all-inclusive policy meant that there were more Grand Ams and Civics than, you know, interesting cars.

    People my age really can’t afford a car; a lot of us rely on hand-me-down transportation. I just sold my Jeep because I work from home and gas is $4.00 a gallon in CT. Student debt is a big part of that, but it also has to do with a dearth of jobs for inexperienced college graduates.

    I disagree about the Sonic though; as a car guy, it has a lot of appeal to me. It’s cheap, it has a six-speed manual with a turbocharged engine, and it doesn’t look half-bad. But I’m not going to buy one new. Instead, I’ll run my girlfriend’s ’98 Accord into the ground (175k and still going strong!) and eventually, we will invest into a newer, but not new, car.

    Most likely, I’ll pick the Sonic up second hand from some older couple who bought it only to realize that they missed the comfort and size of their old Town Car. If I could afford the Sonic, I’d totally buy it. But if I could afford a new car, I’d probably just make the jump up to a 2013 V6 Mustang in Gotta Have It Green with the Performance Package…

    • 0 avatar

      I never said the Sonic was bad. Just that their marketing of the Sonic was bad. The 1.4T is a hoot.

      • 0 avatar

        “A Sonic is a nice car. It’s not worth it.”

        I disagree with this statement. The Sonic would be my first pick for a car under $20,000. The Cruze would be second. Obviously that is just me, but I think the Sonic is a lot more “distinctive” of a car.

        Until Ford offers an affordable EcoBoost Focus though, I’m just not interested.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re taking my statement out of context. I meant it’s not worth it to certain people because if they’re going to go through the burden of car onwership, they’d rather buy something a used BMW than a Sonic. To them it’s not worth it.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess I sort of agree.

        Thing is, I DO have friends who are looking to buy new. And they are looking at cars like the Sonic. Sure, I’d love to have an old Bimmer, but that old Bimmer doesn’t get (or at least, claim to get) 40 mpg. In my neck of the woods gas is $4 a gallon and there are no public transit options that don’t add 90 minutes to your commute. Hyundai is also at the top of the list, and I see a fair number of Velosters in my area.

        A lot of my friends come to me for car advice, and they are basically saying. “Well I could have the nice used car, or I could have the cheap new car, pay less for gas, and go on vacation/buy a new TV/whatever.” Those same guys going out and buying used Bimmers are going to be shelling out a lot to fix them, especially if they don’t come with a warranty.

        But the new Sonic? That comes with a hands-off guarantee for at least 3 years, and the powertrain (I believe) is covered for 5 years/100,000 miles.

        Those used Bimmers don’t come with iPhone connectivity or infotainment systems either.

  • avatar

    “Ross Martin, 37, is a published poet and a former drummer in an alternative rock band. Wearing Nike high tops and LOOSE-fitting jeans”

    Loose fitting jeans? Sorry, but those went out of style at least 10 years ago.

    This always happens when marketers try to do something besides marketing.

    Marketers shouldn’t design cars or even play a part in it. A wonderfully designed car will sell itself. I’m 29 and all of my friends drool over the Kia Optima. Why? Because it looks cool! Almost like a cheap version of a Rapide or a Jag.

    A car designed by a marketing person is no better than a car designed by a bean counter!

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to say. Loose fitting jeans is like 2 fashion cycles ago. The term ‘alternative rock band’ is largely a 80s-90s pehnomenon.
      I disagree that ‘a wonderfully designed car will sell itself” though. Everyone wants to think that he/she is too smart to be ‘fooled by the marketers’. Yet the truth is we are all fooled by the marketers all the time.

      • 0 avatar

        We may be fooled by marketers, but no amount of marketing would ever cause a Cavalier or Escort to become a highly desirable car.

        Look at Honda, for the most part their commercials and marketing has never been “innovative” or even what I consider “good”. Yet the Accord and Civic sold like crazy for a long time.

  • avatar

    Fascinating stuff. I wonder, what exactly do the kids these days aspire to? Actually, that’s not the question: Kids (and adults, for that matter) mostly aspire to a BMW 3-series, Audi A5, or a big Ford/Chevy truck.

    So the question is, what can an automaker compromise on to deliver an appealing car for half the price? Do kids want the look? The performance? The gadgets?

    Or something else entirely? The impact of debt levels is intriguing. What if there were an American Tata Nano… something basic (but able to handle freeways) that was so cheap and reliable that it actually isn’t a burden to own?

  • avatar

    Again, GM tries to “Get jiggy with it”. I think they’re trying too hard. Just concentrate on make good cars, please. They will sell. Looks like Mr. Martin already give GM the advice they’ve paid him for, now for the company to actually follow it, instead of spending money transforming their corporate HQ lobby and shit.

  • avatar


    The absolute rule of thumb is that if you have to say that you are cool you aren’t. The Japanese manufacturers didn’t make the import scene, young people took ordinary everyday cars and made them their own. They chose those cars because they were good cars to begin with, not because they were ‘cool’ cars. A reminder for every marketing manager out there that sales driven only goes so far, and that it’s all about the product in the end.

  • avatar

    Nice work Derek. The truth is that being marketed to with cliches has been annoying people since since way back when Yo-MTV insulted black America. If marketers would only recognize the diversity of their target demographic (including young people) they wouldn’t make such spectacular asses of themselves.

  • avatar

    I’m probably exactly who Chevy is trying to target. I’m in my 20’s, I make good money, and am techology oriented. However, pandering to what you think my age group is will never sell me a car. The only way I’m going to purchase a car is if it’s exactly what I want. Give me an affordable hatchback, decent fuel economy, under-styled interior, good cargo space, reliability, and if you can make it fun to drive I’m sold. I don’t care if it’s a Kia or a BMW as long as it’s what I want. I want choices.

    I’ve known too many people my age who refuse an economy car. They want prestige because in their minds they deserve it. We’re the generation that looks down on economy cars, makes fun of cars with body kits and graphics, but lusts after over-priced used German cars.

    -Side Story-
    I know a girl my age who earns half of what I make who just bought a used (not CPO) BMW 528xi with over 70k miles for just a little less than what she makes in a year. Terrifyingly stupid, terrifyingly true.

    • 0 avatar

      so what, you make like $60k a year? We’re SO impressed.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the other half of this.

      New car loans for people with tons of student loan debt and no solid job kind of stopped being available after 2008, when the people writing those loans could no longer bundle them up and shift the hot potato over to someone else’s pension fund.

      Now, even the people getting out of college with little debt, a decent job, and good enough credit are getting the clear message that it can all vanish at any time, so avoiding debt is kind of a big deal. There’s one solid advantage to owning a cheap, crappy used car outright rather than a loan on a new one, and that’s if you lose your job, the car doesn’t get taken away from you too.

      • 0 avatar


        Which is why I’m driving a (shudder) Caliber right now. I bought it outright with 32,000 on the clock for 9k in 2010. Here we are in 2012 and it’s still under powertrain warranty. Although driving it elicits 0 excitement, it’s never needed a repair, can haul an impressive amount of crap, and is dirt cheap to insure. I’ve been looking into getting a MS3 or GTI but no car payment + $60/month insurance > $300 payment + $180/month insurance. Such is life.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 I’m coming up on the end of my 20s, but I’ve been gainfully employed since graduation, and make about twice what I did 5 years ago (which wasn’t bad at the time), and I have very good credit.
        Alas we learn the lessons of our parents too well. The thought of going 20k into debt scares the bejeezus out of me, even though I have no empirical reason to believe that my particular gravy train will derail anytime soon. The point is that it could. No matter how unlikely that is, the consequences would be disastrous enough without being under water on “cool car”.

      • 0 avatar

        We seem like we’re in pretty similar spots, stryker1. I grew up seeing my much older brother and aunt both dealing with loads of debt.
        At this point, I actually probably need to get a car loan so I can build up my credit. Every time I think I’m ready to go out and buy a vehicle I just get a feeling of dread about the debt I’m going to take on.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually no. For a time after 2008, they were not available. It was brief. The securitization of auto loans is back in full force. It’s a big reason why sales have bounced back.

    • 0 avatar

      Very scary indeed DTS. Give me a clean ’95 Deville 4.9 at this point for… well almost nothing because nobody wants them lol.

      Sure, its wrong wheel drive, city mileage sucks, you top out at 200HP (at only 4100 RPM though), its no enthusiast ride, and it drives as boring as a hearse, but so what? A pimptastic car I would own, with less sophisticated electronics, which was engineered and hopefully kept very well is a much better value to me than expensive CPO Teutonic snob-mobiles (well Caddies are a little lol). Wish my generation would wake up and smell the value.

  • avatar

    The problem with being hip is that it’s constantly changing. So for slow old GM to figure out what’s hip and implement it’s over.

  • avatar

    Derek, I love you. In a bro way of course. I saw that article this morning and I was literally reloading TTAC all day to see when you would post your commentary.

    Here’s why you can’t sell to young people. I’m 27. Between military pay, military benefits and a portfolio of websites I own and make money from, I would say I make the equivalent of close to $60,000 dollars per year. I tried to trade my 06 Explorer for a new Cruze 1LT, and despite my sizeable down payment, it didn’t work out because my Explorer is dropping precipitously in value every time the gas prices go up, and because they tried to massively lowball me on the trade in.

    We young people by USED CARS. You wanna market to us? Advertise your excellent replacement parts for your older vehicles, and what kind of warranties the parts have.

    • 0 avatar

      Couldn’t work the deal, or didn’t like the terms? An LES seems to be a ticket to instant loan approval unless you have a problem with bad credit, and if you’re destroying your credit, you’re likely not going to be in the military very long anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        They had me at nearly 6000 upside down on the trade in. My credit score has improved dramatically since joining the military but no way I would qualify for anything with that awful of a trade in value unless I had perfect credit. That said, even if I did, no way I would be getting raped on the trade in. Oh, and they claimed a non existent transmission issue which drove the estimate down a few grand. Half an hour after I got it back from the mechanic, mind you. If you live anywhere in south GA or north FL, I can tell you exactly which Chevy dealer to avoid.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t get so ‘Moody!” ;-)

        That’s a nasty case of the upside-downsies! Gas prices are cyclical – maybe ride it out until te next price drop, sell the exploder while everyone has momentarily forgotten (again, just like in 2006, 2007, and 2009-10, not to mention the whole SUV boom in the nineties) that pain at the pump sucks, and get some cash out of it then? With some luck, as one of the last true (ish) SUVs there will be a niche market for it and deals to be had on more economical cars. I did that with my Element in mid ’09, and the opposite in 2011 when I couldn’t stand another minute with the Fit – Fukushima has fukushimad the Japanese auto industry, and the Tiny fuel sippers were in high demand. I got one of the last tC’s on the lot before they all dried up for about 8 mos. (Re: the Fit: long story… If I never spend another minute driving a Fit, I’ll die happy).

      • 0 avatar

        So don’t trade it in. Sell it outright and get a loan with your military credit union for a car.

        Friends recently traded in a little sedan. The car was worth $2000 private sale but they gave it to the dealer for $500 b/c the husband was in a hurry, wanted the convenience of the deal and the dealer was happy to oblige. Now they have buyer’s regret despite the replacement vehicle being nice and troublefree.

        They could have cleaned up the trade-in and fixed it’s age related topics for less than they lost on the trade-in and they realize it now. No criticisms from me – whatever floats their boat.

        I suggest to people that get the new(er) car urge to have their current car detailed for $50 or so and then see if their urge to get a payment disappears. Besides the detail job will help their trade-in or private sale price. That new car payment buys alot of gasoline too for the folks who want a new(er) vehicle to save money on fuel.

  • avatar

    I can see the point here–though I’m not of that generation (I’m 31 so probably hopelessly uncool now) I remember what it’s like to be a recent college grad with a new job, some debt, and deciding to get rid of the crappy car that got you through college. I could have leased a subcompact of one type or another but those cars just didn’t appeal to me. Instead, I test drove used Audi A4s, BMW 323s, Acura TLs, and ended up with a Lincoln Mark VIII. (I like big RWD cars and V8 engines…) $40K car new, but I got it in beautiful shape for $8K. Loved it so much more than I would have a new economy car even though it wasn’t great on gas and needed repairs every so often–but it had style.
    Now, 9 years later, I’ve moved in the opposite direction–just traded in my beloved Mercury Marauder on a new Kia Forte Koup because gas and repairs were hitting me in the pocketbook. Even though I make more money, I’ve moved “downmarket”. But I still wanted some style and, in my eyes, the Koup has a modicum–more so than a Corolla or Civic, anyway. That and a 100K mile warranty.

    I’ve been a gearhead ever since I was little so I guess I’m not exactly the average consumer–but I think they need to stop wasting their time trying to be “hip” and just put the money into building good, desirable vehicles. As the voice once said, “if you build it, they will come”.

  • avatar

    What a great article! These marketing geniuses need to open their eyes – a pimped out cheap car on the street is a clapped out cheap car on the street. It’s being pimped after it was bought used from a grandma. I had a Civic hatchback that I bought new, I sold it to a young kid at something like 50K miles, who paid very fair used car price in cash, and immediately upon me removing the plates pulled the car into a Bronx shop to make it pimped with spoilers and other crap.

  • avatar

    Being an out of touch for my age college student I don’t truly understand what “the youth” want. But looking at the parking lot by the dorm here at my school, there are 5 brand new cars out there, 2 Dodge Chargers, a Chevy Silverado, a Tahoe, and a MB E350. They all belong to students, who struggle to afford them with fat refund checks and jobs at Wal-Mart. If I even mentioned a Chevy Sonic to someone in the market for a new car around here, they wouldn’t even know what the hell it is. Maybe the demographics around here are a little different being a HBCU, but I don’t think I have seen one Kia Soul, Chevy Sonic, or Ford Fiesta over at NC State either. Either way, I don’t think people my age really give a single shit about low priced “youth oriented” cars.

  • avatar

    Also, this is what I would consider the best “young people cars”, as far as actual sales success, from what I see around. In no particular order:

    Ford Mustang
    Any big truck, but especially the Ram 1500
    new Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata
    Chevrolet Camaro
    Toyota Camry
    all Jeeps except for the Commander and Grand Cherokee
    Chrysler 300
    Dodge Charger
    VW Jetta
    Honda Accord
    Honda Civic

    Special mention goes to the Nissan Altima, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Honda CR-V, used Ford Explorer, and Ford Escape. As well as so many others I could list, not one of which is the marketeer’s version of a “young car”.

    Basically, young people want mature looking cheap cars with enough size and space to get by, but not too much or too little. Reasonable horsepower and reasonable gas mileage factor in as well. Looking expensive is a huge plus. We don’t want freaky alien crap, for the most part.

  • avatar

    Sorry, but how is this any different from any other period of time in the last 100 years?

    Young adults don’t want what their parents had. They want different, and better. Stationwagons were cool once, then minivans, then SUV’s, now it’s CUV’s. Each segment becomes like death to the next generation. How long before CUV’s are universally shunned?

    The millenials want nothing to do with ordinary; only elitist brand name stuff will do. The price of A4’s and 3 series Bimmers have skyrocketed in the last couople of years. Why? It’s the coolest car amongst my son’s age group. When I told my son that we were looking at buying a CPO 2010 335XI Coupe, I thought he was going to have a stroke. He demanded that he be allowed to drive it on the weekends so he could take it to work and parties, because even his parents owning one made him cooler.

    We all want to be part of a tribe – knowing that, marketers have already begun to get through to the millenials. IPad, IPhone, H&M – they’re the choice right now. In a few years it’ll be something totally different, because the attention spans are getting shorter.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re very right about the Audis and Bimmers. My friends/acquaintances that drive them didn’t think about cost of ownership; they simply want to be “cool” and impress potential “mates”. Granted, these cars are very nice to drive, but let’s just say some of their aforementioned drivers aren’t the DIY types, and as a result, shell out $$$$ at the dealer.

      Still, gotta have the badge!

  • avatar

    Instead of harping on what they are doing wrong- how about some suggestions on how you would do it right?

    Here is what I would do: Hire DJ Skrillex- have him outfit a Dodge Caravan (or some other ‘ironic choice’) with huge bass speakers (wires and steel racks- no slick fiberglass enclosure- that’s out of date). Paint it flat brown and have him do some anti-social stunt like drive down in front of a nice restaurant and scaring all the well dressed patrons away (this is important- there has to be an element of pissing off the old farts for internet LOLs). Most importantly he must never actually shill for the car. You could see his car occasionally in the video and when he is driving around. But he must never actively shill for it.

    As to the cars themselves- they really have to quit with the day glow orange and body kits. That stuff was a joke even when Fast and Furious came out 10 years ago. I would go for the flat primer look like Ducati has done so successfully, or a rat-rod inspired rust finish. Let the exterior rust, and then use a rust stabilizer to stabilize it- and you’d have a nice even red rust look. The bumpers could have some rusted metal ornaments on it. Of course not every young person is into that aesthetic. I think the other direction to go is ‘co-branding’. For example a Gucci or LV edition of a car like the Mini, the Fiat 500 or the Beetle would be spot on. Marc Jacobs and True Religion would appeal to different segments also. A Pottery Barn edition might appeal to the careerist young woman. An Apple edition would of course be a marketing coup-de-grace.

    And of course- you cannot sell to young people without electronic gadgetry. Things like voice-to-IM technology is essential. car mounted cameras out the front and side windows would be good too. When you see a nice scenic sight you could take a picture and share it on Facebook right away. When you pass by a horrific accident you could video it and share it on Youtube with your usual smarmy xFAILx comments. OnStar could have a special IPhone app which lets you keep track of where all your friends’ GM cars are at the moment.

  • avatar

    As a member of “Generation Y”, my peers seem to fall into several categories car-wise. It seems like they are just as diverse as any other generation. Some drive new or recent Toyondas (they trust them because their family and friends loved theirs), others drive hand-me-down SUVs, others lease luxury cars or buy them used (or perhaps their parents do for them), in hopes of seeking status. None drive Sonics, Velosters, or other cars marketed to “millenials” with pandering, though…

    (Not saying those are bad cars.)

  • avatar

    I’ve seen the new Sonic ads maybe 100 times on the internet, and the only thing that I get from them is “The Sonics good as a prop, probably stinks as a car”.

  • avatar

    I’m 21, so I’m pretty much what GM wants.

    I have a sore spot for land-barges that get decent mpg, their own early 80’s Toronado being one of them.

    Yet, I know that buying a hatchback with similar room inside is what I should do, so I grabbed a Toyota Tercel.

    Why a Tercel? Easy, its cheap, durable, “okay looking”, easy to fix, and fun to drive. Perfect for spirited young drivers.

    The Sonic is neither of those, it drives like a big car, pricey to fix, and to make up for its bland driving has an overly sporty exterior. That and its stylingGMs regular habits give many people the impression that “Its another Aveo”, no self-respecting 20 year old wants to be seen in an Aveo.

    That and the marketing, want to go sky-diving or bungie jumping?
    Well, the Sonic is for you! Want a cheap economical car? Well uhhmm,
    we’ll have the Spark soon! Yea!

  • avatar

    If GM is reading this, take note:

    Design cars that are classy and have a timeless look to them. Then people of all ages will drool over owning them whether they can afford them or not. And when they can, they’ll come knocking on the door of the local GM dealership.

    Oh, they need to be well built, reliable, and fun to drive too. Just some minor details thrown in.

    Most people despise marketing targeted to their demographic. This is such basic stuff, I can’t believe they even attempted this.

  • avatar

    First, let me say I’m weird. I’m not one of the kids that has to do everything ironically, or stop listening to a band the moment someone else besides me hears about them.

    But I’m 23, just graduated from college, and have a job that pays pretty well. When I buy a new car, I want something nice. When I went car shopping (before I found out that my student loan and credit card debt severely limited my options) I went looking at the likes of the Cruze LTZ and the Focus Titanium and even the Taurus SHO. Then, when new was ruled out, I looked at an HHR SS or a Caliber SRT-4 or a 3 series. I think I even test drove an Acura (which I found to be more enjoyable than the 3 series) but what I’m trying to say is that for me personally, if I’m gonna buy a car, I not only want a car I can afford, but one that is nice and won’t make me tired of it after the first week, which is often a paradox. For many in my generation, that niche is filled only by used cars.

    I think the solution is that carmakers need to quit trying so hard to make themselves relevant, and focus on simple brand awareness instead of “social media impressions” and other marketing crap.

    Finally, I really do believe the entire car buying process needs to be changed. I have test-drove many cars (even new cars) in which I have known more than the salesperson. To wit: shortly after the Cruze became available for sale, I called my local dealership and asked if it was available with navigation. The salesperson, instead of checking or anything, immediately told me “No.” I said I thought I remembered seeing somewhere that it did. Only then did she agree to check, and then put me on hold. After a few minutes, she came back and proceeded to tell me that I was right (I knew I was) and that it does come with navigation, but they didn’t have any in stock. Then she said, “Since we don’t have any in stock, we’ll have to order one. When can you come by to sign the paperwork?” I told her that I had only been asking a question which she had answered, thanked her, and got off the phone. Less than an hour later, the sales manager called and began the conversation with “So I understand you’re wanting to buy a Cruze. Can you come by tomorrow? We’ll make you a real good deal!” Bear in mind, I hadn’t even set foot on the lot yet.

    Now that may have just been that dealership, but a lot of people my age probably would never even consider that dealership ever again. So, the point is, that all the “social media interactions” and “likes” and unicorns and rainbows don’t mean anything if the dealerships chase us away.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed Critchdizzle. I’ve never liked Facebook marketing and the like, it all seems to plastic to me. On another note, I just found out recently the fully loaded everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Focus Titanium runs $28,600 with destination (checked Ford website). In almost 15 years of driving I have never owned a ‘sport’ edition car because I’m buying used and the SS/Z28/Cobra version was always 2-5K+ more than the mid to base models used, so it was usually out of reach. Personally I think almost 30K for a small car such as the ones you named (SHO excluded) is too much. What does a 23yo like you think? Is my thinking just way older than my 30 years on Earth?

      • 0 avatar

        I think it’s a classic case of right price, wrong car. If someone has the means to afford those kinds of options, they’re not going to be shopping for a Focus.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a similar experience at a Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram dealership. I made it clear I wasn’t in the market for a new vehicle but that I would be soon, and in preparation for that I was checking out the nearest dealerships for an idea of what they typically had in stock and what typical prices looked like. I expressed some interest in Jeep Wranglers and was shown around nicely through some low-end new and one nicely appointed near-new used Wrangler, and left with a generally positive experience and was actually eager to do business with them when I got my financial ducks all in a row and was actually ready to commit to a purchase.

      Then the next morning I got a call, asking when I was ready to come down that morning (I live out in the sticks, the aforementioned dealership was an hour’s drive away) to buy that used Jeep I’d been looking at.. this happened for three days before I lost my patience and responded to the last one with, “STOP CALLING ME You [REDACTED]!”

      I’m just glad right now that if I ever do get to really hankering a Jeep there’s another dealership an hour’s drive in the Opposite direction, and I’ve learned that when a dealer asks for my home phone number the answer is ‘no thank you.’

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Don’t mind me I’m an old fart compared to the customers that GM is trying to attract. I’ll be 35 in June. I like BAS (Big a$$ sedans) and would snap up a Lucerne or an Impala with the right options. I do like the Cruze but that’s because you can get options like heated leather seats and keep the 6 speed stick. Oh and the Cruze has just about the biggest trunk in its class.

  • avatar

    You’ve written similar articles before- and as before I agree on the marketing aspect of it- but I’m still not buying the young people want used BMW’s argument. You’re so certain of it but it’s 100% anecdotal.

    I know more young people that would much rather buy a new focus or a Civic for the same money as a used BMW because they live in places where they need cars, but they’re not enthusiasts. They want/need reliable transportation in a nice package. They’re like laptops. They want something that’s going to work and hey it’s nice if it looks nice…

    I wish you’d try to research some kind of numbers to prove this assertion that young non-enthusiast (i.e. the vast majority of drivers) people want used luxury cars more than basic new cars. I agree they don’t need the youth-marketing- but you’re muddying up the message with things like the Honda S2000 claim. I’d bet >80% of people under 30 don’t even know what that car is.

    • 0 avatar

      Bingo. The vast majority of Americans don’t want a manual or a diesel, and they honestly couldn’t identify RWD v. FWD. Camries & Accords sell so well because people genuinely want appliances.

      Car guys hang out with car guys, so their views are over-represented. They think that’s normal when they are actually just outliers.

  • avatar

    It’s always funny to hear what enthusiasts say the ‘average person’ wants or likes.

  • avatar

    I don’t know if it’s still true, but the last time I paid any attention, the make with the lowest customer age was VW. Now, I doubt this will remain true, what with VW comitted to designing a Camry without either the refinement or durability, but I think it was because previous-generation VWs felt special. They weren’t especially sensible, reliable, or cost-efficient, but those are concerns you develop AFTER you’ve been burned a few times by spending beyond your means and regretting it. Young people bought VWs for the same reasons they buy iMacs for $2,500 instead of the box-store-special Lenovo for $499, even though they’d both work fine: The Mac looks and feels special, because it gives the impression of having been designed rather than merely built. A Spark does not.

    I’m 33, and I drive an ’03 Grand Marquis, ‘cuz it’s cheap and reliable, but that car is an indicator of a broader purchasing pattern with me, and it’s one I see in the younger generation. If I can’t afford what I really want (see: MT, RWD, European), then I’ll get whatever will work that’s cheap. The only people who will buy a Spark or Versa or whatever “youth-oriented” crap the product planners cough up next will be people of ANY age who want a reliable new car and either can’t afford what they want or don’t care enough about their transportation to pay more.

  • avatar
    George B

    From a decade ago, but I think of the song Comfort Eagle by Cake as I read this.

    …We are building a religion
    We are making a brand
    We’re the only ones to turn to
    When your castles turn to sand…

    I’m middle aged, but my best guess on how make a car for Generation Y would be to combine the low base price and ongoing accessory sales of the Mini Cooper with the upscale shape of a BMW 328i or Audi A4. Study how Audi made a 4 cylinder FWD car look like a RWD luxury car.

  • avatar

    Gen Y once meant “the people after Gen X”, and the line of demarcation between X and Y was once 1980-1985ish, depending upon who you asked and the proximity of individuals within the demographic to technology. Gen Y now means “young people”.

    I’m 30. I started using personal computers and doing programming training in 2nd grade. I attended a university that was among the first to get facebook. I am Gen Y.

    We are the first generation to come of age in the new economy of arrested development, where wages are too high (yet too stagnant) to afford young people substantial opportunities other than credit and education. What Gen Y wants worse than anything is to escape from Gen Y, but productivity is just an ancient legend from decades ago. We have to con our way into jobs with fluffy resumes, and we try to consume our way into maturity, hence the erratic consumption function that mimics a 1% income earner. We lust after the top tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy, yet meeting basic physiological human need continues to get more difficult for young people, mainly b/c of irresponsible government interference in the healthcare and housing market. Not political, that’s just what it is. Societal “death wish”, as it manifests itself in fatalistic politicians, has little to do with normative political values.

    When the market didn’t meet with our expectations, we took the internet concept, originally assigned to productivity and informational efficiency, and we turned it into an artificial economy. We turned cyberspace into a surreal environment that created an emotional stimulus–a place where people could be “productive” by collecting friends, archiving music, archiving movies, raising post counts, and building social capital. The internet is an open society unlike the real world.

    Gen Y want out of Gen Y, but with each successive generation, arrested development becomes more acute, and America’s youth is further removed from participating in American society. School is our prison. Our parents and grandparents borrowed money from us before we could vote to stop them. We want to believe that corporations are our friends b/c buying stuff feels good, but we quickly realize that corporations (car companies, particularly) only sell financial slavery. The government is a complete joke.

    Then, for no discernible reason, someone hands us money and responsibility simply b/c the calendar says it’s time. We are a considerably worse individuals who only care about paying the mortgage and getting a little piece of ours. We will screw people over for a raise. We will throw people under the bus to improve earnings by 5%. We will borrow from our own progeny just to avoid our problems, but our emotions dull with age, thus, our perceptual acuity so we acquire a new skill–complete denial. We are finally useful to American corporations. The illusion of meritocracy is shattered at last, and we just accept everything for what it is. When we do something fundamentally decent, we are reconnected with our youth for a brief moment in time, but it doesn’t pay the bills. We are no longer Gen Y (the symbol).

    Car companies are as useless to Gen Y as an IRA. The situation will not change until executives actually give a sh!t whether young people thrive and develop. Charge more for less, and they’ll escape to safety and use their friends to watch their backs. Gen Y are just like every other prey animal. Car companies can either hire “consultants” to bait Gen Y into the open where they can be slaughtered for sport, or car companies can simply quit acting as predators.

    The End.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure that I understood all of that (though I have a soft spot for anyone young trying to make it in the USA as it stands right now), but it’s a well-expressed perspective.

  • avatar
    vinyl endive

    We all want what we can never have. Marketers’ jobs are to convince us to depart with our dollar. But most of the young buying public to whom GM would like to attract are naturally skeptical.

    “Kids” in their late twenties/early thirties are the youngest customers who can afford to buy new iron. They remember growing up in societal utopia: go to college and make a well-to-do living like your parents. Their parents invested into gourmet foods, high-end electronics, designer jeans, and cleaning services. Mom and Dad’s income grew as their ladder-climbing progressed while their offspring reaped their spoils.

    Slowly, things started to be taken away in their teenage years. Midway through college, the certainty of post-graduate employment dissolved into stark disappointment. Weaning oneself from those spoils into a simpler lifestyle compounded resentment. Escapism attracted the disallusioned who were so entitled to their previous assets.

    The Y generation resents those who had a leg-up to market an appliance they cannot afford but always thought the could. In high school, they scoffed at their teachers whose ten-year-old econoboxes rolled into the teacher’s lot. Now, they’re lucky to reel in a teacher’s salary.

    Those of us who have worked hard enough to earn disposable incomes have observed benefits fizzle into anachronism. Don’t convince us that we’re still relavent. Our soul has already been crushed. Convince us that we will enjoy a drive we never thought we’d be able to afford. Surprise us with the piece of mind in its reliability, functionality, and practicality whether its a HD diesel flatbed or commutermobile. When people are troubled, give them comfort.

  • avatar

    Despite being 28, I am far from a typical buyer or typical individual in my age group, although I did elect to take the (used) BMW plunge. I can’t offer much on the views of my peers since I don’t really hang out with anyone from my generation on a regular basis that isn’t a car person. My coworkers are not a good illustrative demographic either since the official vehicle of the fire dept is the full size pickup truck. My same aged ex was on his second Mazda 3 because he liked the way it looked. Unofficial survey of the LA Fitness parking lot closest to our local state University shows a large number of 3’s, as well as Infiniti G’s, VW’s, Audi’s, and Bimmers. The only person in this age range I’ve talked cars with was a 19 or 20 something girl who does seem to fit Derek’s idea exactly. She wants to spend $15k or so on a new car (how she can afford to do that on her $10/hr job I have no idea since I worked for the same pay before and could never have seen myself affording a car like that. Her first choices were either a new VW or a used Audi because “they’re so nice.”. I figured I’d leave the whether she could afford to spend this much on a car at all aside for now and at least try to get her into a Kia or Hyundai instead of the Germans. Either way she only wanted a sedan because hatchbacks are “not cool” and don’t look good, but she thought the Audi and VW were “classy.”

  • avatar

    As a full fledged, card carrying member of generation X born in ’72, I gotta say “a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle” sounds really cool to me. Which is to say that it seems marketers seem to often be a full generation behind their intended market when they try to appeal to the then current youngest young adult generation.

  • avatar

    GM’s making progress, they’ve gone from right answer to the wrong question (Volt) to wrong answer to the right question (what do our potential customers want?). GM’s approach to an alleged youth market tells more about the demographics of their executives than anything else. How old do you have to be to be hiring a 37 year old as a consultant on selling your product to 20 somethings? Maybe the head of marking should go have a talk with his/her granchildren.

  • avatar

    I have never paid much attention to product endorsers or presenters because they are for hire like everyone else. So when a car ad comes on I take note of the car, see if it looks nice, etc. Nothing more than someone waving something on a street corner to at least get a look. But two past ads stands out as laughers…one for the Ford Expedition; two couples are at the open tailgate and the owners engage the power third seat to fold down, all the while glancing with a smug look to the other couple who don’t have that option..that came across as shallow at best. The other was Lexus a couple years ago; they were ripping into a “red tag” sale by another maker…GM..the other car was covered in red tags and Lexus was grinding on what value really is….but the last few statements on the ad were about the “specials” Lexus had going on…huh? Pot/kettle stuff does not build credibility. But I am 53 and just bought a new Ralliart because it is a blast to drive around town, in spite of reviewers lukewarm reviews. So maybe most do take things with a big grain of salt.

  • avatar

    Once young people actually move out of their parents’ houses, get real jobs, stop whining about inequities, and start to have families of their own they’ll suddenly realize that they actually need a car and not a carbon neutral politically affrmative renewable city center transportation idea. So they will buy a Camcord, or generic “active lifestyle” CUV like every other drone in America.

    Marketing to a youth market that has no money and no interest in cars is a waste of time and money and no hip young marketing “experts” will change that.

  • avatar

    I think I’ve put my finger on the real issue here. Derek has mentioned it directly in several of these editorials, but maybe I can put it in to more context so that most people will “get it”.

    A major thing that’s changed in our society since I was a kid is that TV and popular music aren’t as culturally important as they were in the 1980s and 1990s. The Internet allows all of the “with it” people to pursue our interests, rather than be subjected to the same crappy entertainment as everyone else. People who are just a little bit younger than I am have never known the unified/uniform media environment that thankfully started to whither and die in the late 1990s.

    So now, targeting “Generation Why” as if they *wanted* to be a unified cohort with a uniform culture is a mindbogglingly fundamental mistake. Assuming that they all want to be hipsters, fraternity/sorority boys and girls, grunge rockers, coffee shop patrons, celebutantes, or whatever the hell label you want to put on them just shows that “you don’t get it”. A better approach would be to look at the market by interests, culture, and income — and mostly forget age.

    If you want to sell my 20-something lesbian DINK sister a car, you’ll need to find a car that’s good for outdoor activities, good hauling her band’s stuff around, reliable, and has less environmental impact than most. If you want to sell my 20-something conservative rural step-brother-in-law a car, you’d best take him to the F-150 booth and start figuring out how to finance a $40k Cowboy Cadillac on a $40k/year salary. If you want to sell my sister-in-law a car, you need to find a car that looks stylish in big-city parking garages and where the battery won’t run down if she forgets to drive for a few weeks. None of these folks care what the hipsters and aging grunge/punk rockers in Seattle are doing, and none of them aspire to be one — they’re just too damn busy doing what *they * want to do. Their role models come from within the half-dozen communities that each one is a part of.

    If you just want to sell cars, the easy way is to just make a variety of excellent vehicles and let them pick the one that suits their needs. Or, you could learn about thousands of subcultures, and learn about the needs of each one. You’d also need to learn how to respect each and every community on their own terms (rather than screaming at them with advertising). These are both big undertakings. Just building great cars is probably a lot less work.

    • 0 avatar

      I see a giant Venn diagram being prepared for the next meeting of marketing and sales execs . . . and maybe they will let the desingers and engineers slip in a little fun, excitment and quality.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, you hit the nail on the head… just market the car itself. Build a killer car and market it. Use younger models in the ads if you want to market it to younger people. Market the car… right after you finish building a car that’s actually worth marketing.

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