Millennials Still Prefer Cars, Study Suggests

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Ever since the Great Recession, Millennials have become the target of blame for every economic woe imaginable. They’re not saving their money, they’re not buying homes, they’re not making enough, they change jobs too frequently, they don’t know how to shop around, they’re crippled by debt, and they aren’t buying enough cars. Depending on where you get your news, they are frequently framed as economic imbeciles incapable of doing anything right.

Of course, the obvious counterpoint to those allegations involve the broader problem stagnating wages and a market established by their higher-earning forebears that they can’t seem to wrangle — but who has the time for nuance these days?

While we primarily care about the car buying angle, it’s worth mentioning that Millennials are different from their older counterparts. Still, we were surprised in how that fact manifested itself this week. Apparently, Millennials aren’t all that excited about utility vehicles. Despite SUVs and crossovers dominating the automotive landscape, younger folks are still choosing to buy cars.

That isn’t to suggest that crossover vehicles aren’t a popular choice; they just aren’t the most popular. The Detroit Bureau recently reported on a study from QuoteWizard that tabulated data from its users to find out what people between the ages of 22 and 37 were driving in 2018. Here’s their top 10, in order of popularity, accompanied by each model’s MSRP:

Honda Accord – $23,720


Nissan Altima – $23,900


Honda Civic – $19,450


Toyota Camry – $23,945


Hyundai Sonata – $22,500


Chevrolet Impala – $28,020


Ford F-150 – $28,155


Toyota Corolla – $18,700


Ford Focus – $17,950


Jeep Grand Cherokee – $31,945

The emphasis on Japanese brands is no surprise. Countless studies suggest younger generations are more inclined to purchase Asian or German (if money allows) vehicles than their parents. But there’s a shocking lack of utility vehicles in this list.

The Detroit Bureau claims this is likely down to younger generations moving into cities, calling the results slightly surprising due to “the fact that the average Millennial makes more than $69,000 annually.” That’s not an accurate statement, however. The Pew Research Center’s analysis of new census data, published earlier this year, actually attributed that sum to “Millennial Households.”

From the Pew Research Center:

The growth in household incomes among young adults has been driven in part by Millennial women, who are working more — and being paid more — than young women were in previous years.

Incomes of households headed by 54- to 72-year-olds, Baby Boomers today, are at record levels, while those of current Generation X households (ages 38 to 53) are about the same as the peak earnings of similarly aged households in the past.

The younger you go, the more likely you are to find couples living together that are both employed full time. In truth, that $69,000 per person salary ends up being closer to $34,500 — which might explain why Millennials are buying affordable cars they can probably convince the dealer to discount a bit further. However, we’ve seen previous reports claiming household incomes for people under 35 actually hover around $40,500.

While a lot of these models (Civic, Camry, Corolla, and F-Series) already qualify as some of America’s best-selling models, the general trend seems to be whatever younger buyers think they can get on the cheap while still fulfilling their daily needs. That’s not really so different from the broader car-buying trend but, when you zoom all the way out to look at overall regional sales volume, more expensive crossover vehicles and pickups tend to dominate.

We’re now living in a period where manufacturers are thinning the herd of economy vehicles, shifting their focus to higher-margin crossovers, trucks, and electric vehicles. Meanwhile, Millennials are believed to rake in 20 percent less than their Boomer parents did at the same stage in life. There’s no reason to think they’ll suddenly have a glut of disposal income in 10 years. Automakers will have to have to find a way to make that work.

[Image: Honda]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • D4rksabre D4rksabre on Mar 20, 2019

    This article is my girlfriend and I to a tee. I'm 32 and I drive an Impala, she's 29 and drives an Impreza. Our net income is around $63k. I've shopped crossovers and SUVS but the price for what you *actually* get is way out of whack on them. My Impala is much more useful than most crossovers and, despite it's general quality issues, it's a screaming deal in comparison. Everyone I know drives Mazda 3s, Imprezas, Cruzes, and VWs. I can't name anyone in my friend group who owns a crossover or SUV. We're all *trying* to pay off student loans and save for houses/maintain the houses we have. Millennials want the lives their parents had. That's all there is to it. And for a lot of us we're still living the sedan life.

    • Brn Brn on Mar 20, 2019

      As someone in his 50's, good for you. I'm tired of millennial bashing. You don't deserve it.

  • Formula m Formula m on Mar 20, 2019

    35 year old. Drive a Highlander and a Ram. Bought a Honda ATV for my driving enjoyment. No police to harass me, gps to track me or people to crash me when I'm off-road.

  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.
  • THX1136 I would not 'knowingly' purchase a Chinese built or brand. I am somewhat skeptical of actual build quality. What I've seen in other Chinese made products show them to be of low quality/poor longevity. They are quite good at 'copying' a design/product, but often they appear to take shortcuts by using less reliable materials and/or parts. And , yes, I know that is not exclusive to Chinese products. When I was younger 'made in Japan' was synonymous with poor quality (check John Entwistle's tune 'Made in Japan' out for a smile). This is not true today as much of Japan's output is considered very favorably and, in some product types, to be of superior quality. I tend to equate the same notion today for things 'made in China'.
  • Mike Beranek No, but I'm for a world where everyone, everywhere buys cars (and everything else) that are sourced and assembled regionally. Shipping big heavy things all over the planet is not a solution.
  • Jeffrey No not for me at this time
  • El scotto Hmm, my VPN and security options have 12-month subscriptions. Car dealers are not accountable to anyone except the owner. Of course, the dealer principles are running around going "state of the art security!", "We need dedicated IT people!" For the next 12 months. The hackers can wait.
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