QOTD: What Millennials Want?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

I can’t claim to know what Millennials want — I don’t consider myself a member of that particular cohort. Depending on the source, I’m either one year into that demographic or one year removed, but given that my circle of friends starts at about five years my junior and tops out at 20 years my senior, I’ll accept one older aquaintence’s assertion that I’m “the ragged edge of Generation X.”

That said, social media makes one a sometimes unwilling observer of this curious group of people and, amid their incessant political tweeting, the Millennial’s automotive angst emerges. Basically, cars are too expensive, OEMs have abandoned them, and the Boomers stole their future. And I thought Gen-Xers were supposed to be miserable grumps.

What automotive balm would soothe these pains?

Before I’m accused of being an aloof, cigar-chomping plutocraft, allow me to say that slow wage growth, inflation, and ballooning education costs haven’t left the average young worker in better car-buying shape than their Nixon-era predecessors. And that’s rough. The annoying stories written over the past few years about Millennials ditching car ownership has more to do with money than attitude or ideology.

Put some cash in a Millennial’s pocket and they’ll likely show up at the dealer, assuming they’re living in or around a city that doesn’t make vehicle ownership prohibitive. (Also, assuming they’re not convinced their personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is the tipping point between paradise and annihilation.)

Yes, vehicle prices are on the rise, and the threatened status of low-end cars doesn’t spell a rosy future for youngsters hoping to buy a sub-$20k car in the years ahead. But are cars really that more expensive? Not really. Adjusted for inflation, a 1989 Honda Civic DX hatchback would retail for $17,760 before delivery. A 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier RS coupe, combining a 3.1-liter V6 and five-speed manual? $19,238. Getting into a 1989 Suzuki Swift GTi (1.3-liter) would set you back $18,312.

It’s not the cars, it’s the wallets. But is there an argument to be made that today’s products lack a certain passion or, dare I say it, soul? A Twitter user who’s far more experienced than I suggests product is indeed the problem. Cash-strapped buyers need more practicality, he argues.

I’m of the mind that the Suzuki Jimny would be a bona fide hit if offered here, though even that fun, rugged little SUV would run into the same pricing problem. Base price of an overseas-market Jimny? A tick over $21,000. The inflation-adjusted price of an entry-level 1989 Suzuki Samurai? $20,305.

Looking at (sinking) sales stats for truly cheap cars, I’m not convinced it’s possible to pull off the creation of a successful Millennialmobile; younger buyers often demand a certain level of technological content and refinement. OEMs would probably balk at the development costs and tiny margins. Even if a bottom-end vehicle rose above the appeal and utility of a Mirage or Versa, there’s no guarantee buyers would leave the used market behind or stop biking and Ubering to sign the note. Still, this is an exercise in imagination.

What does an automaker have to do to lure low-paid Millennials? What type of vehicle would draw twentysomethings like a Beto O’Rourke rally? Let your mind go wild, and don’t hesitate to toss out price points.

[Image: Mitsubishi Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • HotPotato HotPotato on Oct 26, 2018

    If you're unlucky enough to be paying your own expenses instead of inheriting your parents' car, and you're not down with the wrenching, and you live somewhere gas isn't dirt-cheap, then I think the bargain lease on the last model year of a generation of an unloved economy car is the way to go. There were insane deals on the last-gen Chevy Cruze and last-gen VW Jetta. Three blissful, reliable, economical, fully-warranteed years of affordable motoring pleasure, and no commitment beyond that.

    • Ernest Ernest on Oct 27, 2018

      Last night, Ford ad. Zero down, 36 mo, 10K/yr lease Fusion- $219/mo Escape SE AWD $299/mo. Ad made no mention of "highly qualified," but did mention the recent college grad program for credit approval and an additional discount.

  • Watersketch Watersketch on Oct 27, 2018

    There is so much flexibility in the rental market i can see why many milennials dont want to own. Locally i can get an Enterprise weekend rental for $45 Fri - Mon. I can do Zipcar or Maven to get a car for a few hours. Then there are those peer to peer rental websites as well.

  • Mgh57 I like the complete silence of an electric.
  • Kcflyer This is a joke right? Kevin James invented this in a movie years ago. As I recall queen latifa loved it. The movie was called "The Dilemma". It was even a dodge. Life imitates art indeed.
  • RHD This is the modern equivalent of the Horsey Horseless. (If you don't know what that was, look it up!)
  • Loser What’s next, simulation of the “Hemi tick”?
  • Ajla There's a melancholy to me about an EV with external speaker-generated "engine" noise and fake transmissions. It feels like an admission from the manufacturer that you're giving something up and they are trying to give back some facsimile of it. Like giving a cupcake scented candle to someone on a diet. If I was shopping for an EV I'd rather go to a company enthusiastic about it rather than apologetic.