By on March 19, 2019

2018 Accord Sport 2.0-Liter Turbo - Image: Honda

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]

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68 Comments on “Millennials Still Prefer Cars, Study Suggests...”

  • avatar
    Dale Houston

  • avatar

    “younger folks are still choosing to buy cars.”

    Well, our knees and hips are fine so that helps a lot.

  • avatar

    Still havent owned one yet although i’m getting closer if i can find a supercharged one for a decent price.

    Granted all the centennials i work with all want telsas

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    it seems that all the millenial relatives, co-workers all drive 4 dr sedans, altimas,camrys,civics. Who wants to drive a crossover like their parents? It’s something USDMs should consider going forward.

    • 0 avatar

      “It’s something USDMs should consider going forward.”

      Like they still aren’t stepping on their own willies by continuing to woo 18-34 year-olds when prime buying age is nearly 60.

    • 0 avatar

      None of those co-workers are driving Fusions, Cruzes, 200s or Focuses?

      So, why should they keep building them? To lose money?

    • 0 avatar

      Sometimes, I’m very humbled by the absolute brilliance of the industry insiders who post on here. Chills just run up and down my spine (though that might just be the office chair I bought at Target). So since Ford gave up on the passenger car, this article must be wrong. There’s no way they would shoot themselves in the willie like that. Carry on, nothing to see here.

    • 0 avatar

      “None of those co-workers are driving Fusions, Cruzes, 200s or Focuses?
      So, why should they keep building them? To lose money?”

      That’s like saying they gave up because they cannot build something good. Yup, I’m not buying them if they are only going to do it half ass and blame the customers for not buying them.

      The first employee I’d layoff would be someone who whine about not getting a bonus and therefore does not do a good job, instead of the other guy who got the bonus and do a better job (or appears to do a better job).

  • avatar

    Looking at this list, I’m seriously concerned that the Impala is number six. Basically, what this reflects is that at least the bottom five are just noise. Millenials aren’t buying all that many cars or trucks. Affordable new cars or trucks are on their way out. I feel bad for the millenials who have the character to resist indoctrination, as they’ll share the dystopian future the rest of them bought into.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, duh, there are two Fords below that car. How could that possibly be right? Everyone knows they’ll be in the junkyard before the first set of tires are 20% worn.

    • 0 avatar

      Impala is not a young people’s car. It is too big on the outside and too big in the engine size. I’m a Gen X and I still find it a young boomer’s car instead (hint: you don’t get laid in one).

  • avatar

    I am currently helping my friend, a 19 year old female college student, buy a car. She has narrowed it down to a 2018 Honda Accord or 2018 Camry SE (she thinks the non-SE is ugly). Shes leaning more towards the Accord due to the way it drives and the fact that it has Apple car play.

    When asked (by a family member) if she would consider a crossover, she said “hell no, I dont plan on becoming a mom for quite a while”. Very telling.

    There are people who do prefer cars, and generally, I do (over a Nissan Rogue or current Ford Explorer type utility).

    Still, I do not fault OEMs that have abandoned cars. There is simply a bias that exists towards their cars (whether deserved or not), a thin margin (if any), and resources are better spent on vehicles that generate profits and dont sit on lots with wheelbarrows of cash on their hoods for months on end.

    • 0 avatar

      Does she have the budget for a 2.0T Accord?

      I’ve seen so many reviewers burning the tires off of them and giggling like school children.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      “When asked (by a family member) if she would consider a crossover, she said “hell no, I dont plan on becoming a mom for quite a while”. Very telling.”

      And there it is. Crossovers and SUVs are what minivans were in the 80s-90s and station wagons were before that. The kids are all right!

  • avatar

    Wait, I thought Boomers had become the target of blame for all woes of every kind??

    • 0 avatar
      James Charles

      I do blame some of thencurrent woes on Boomers living in the past.

      This is obvious in the US and UK.

      A majority of Brexit proponents are Boomers living on past memories of how things were. The people that will live with the poor Brexit decision are the young who are overall Euro supporters.

      The US is the same. Just read the comment of those Boomers who lived in the past when the US lead the world in a more responsible fashion and had more influence.

      I think many Boomers can’t see the forest through the trees. Boomers culturally will be difficult to have them see reality. They are selfish and insecure, hence living on past achievements and unable to face the future.

      Now not all Boomers are like this, but many more than the up and coming generations.

  • avatar

    Back when I was younger as I do today, I apprecaite a reliable, low-cost car. Recently, it was snowing heavy, there were slide offs, and the salt trucks were out in force, and I picked the car for the day’s journeys over the nicer rides in the garage. The car had the least liability to it and was just as safe.

  • avatar

    “younger generations are more inclined to purchase Asian or German”

    Why? One has a reputation for being reliable. The other has a reputation for being unreliable.

    Perhaps, it’s just part of the “everything the US does is bad” mentality.

    • 0 avatar

      Keep the demographics of the younger generation in mind. A large fraction of them have no love for the home team because it literally isn’t their home team – and other than $50,000 pickup trucks and maybe a Jeep or Mustang here or there home team is the only reason to set foot on a domestic lot at all.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, US manufacturers have always had affordable options. When you’re looking at street price, generally more affordable than Japan and certainly more affordable than Germany. Heck, a Chevy Spark can be had for $11K. $12K will get you a Ford Fiesta.

        I’m with ILO. One thing the US has progressively become very good at is hating the US.

    • 0 avatar

      “everything the US does is bad”

      Do you still have any doubts about that. US is the worst country in the world according to pundits in US is the pure evil, the most racist country in history of mankind, is far behind of Europe and China in quality of life and happiness of populace and the most asked question on is how to move out from US to Europe for good to get free everything and enjoy life.

      BTW each subsequent generation of Americans is more anti-US and more pro-global – i.e. Gen Z is more pro-global than Gen X and Gen X is more proglobal than Boomers. This is according to polls that you can trust.

      • 0 avatar
        James Charles

        That’s a bit of a stretch. I don’t experience that and I travel extensively. Maybe some Americans tend to view the world that way and use it as an excuse for their own failings and insecurity.

    • 0 avatar

      It is the fashion.

      Look at Dodge Charger, and look at a Subaru WRX STI, which one do you think is considered dorky by the younger generation?

      FiST is fine but that’s probably more of a Euro design than a Domestic big car.

      A Spark or Aveo new compare to a 3 year old Civic, and you wonder why people will not buy domestic other than being absolutely the cheapest.

      US brands are fine if you do it right, look at iPhone or most laptop you can buy, Dell and HP still command a good market share.

    • 0 avatar

      A used Japanese car is affordable and reliable: think Corolla.
      A used German car is affordable and fun: think GTI.
      A used American car is neither: think PowerShift Fiesta.
      Same as it ever was.

  • avatar

    Millennials – the participation award generation, still has people making excuses for them. Its not their fault, everything is someone else’s fault.

    • 0 avatar

      Here we go again. A boomer or gen X telling Millennials what to like and what to buy, and if they don’t, Millennials are ruinning things and it is their faults.

      They spend their money on crossovers or SVs? They are irresponsible. They spend their money on import cars instead of domestics? They are throwing money away and unAmerican. They don’t drive cars at all and use Ubers and Lyfts? They are unAmerican and they are not independent.

  • avatar

    Dunno about the US but in Australia the Toyota Hilux remains the biggest selling vehicle. Isn’t it the F100 ute over there? They are smooth compared to earlier generations but they’re a rough, truck-like thing compared to any road car. I know what it is though. They represent options. You have much more power and many more options when you have a truck or a ute. They’re inferior for everything else but they give you the chance of an expanded life. I am not surprised “millenials” are less into that. They’re used to mobility and cars are basically a human right IMO. They allow you to go where you want, when you want. But the trend now is for younger generations to have reduced horizons and reduced expectations of what they can do. Cities are bigger, there are more people with less personal space and less of them make things and get into the country areas. And we all know where fuel prices are heading, even if we’ve been in a little gap recently. The way things are heading, even cars will trend downwards. Yeah we’ll want and need them in many places but they will be harder to own and justify as cities get crowded and public transport becomes more standard for more people. This trend with Millenials and cars is just part of the way down that road.

    • 0 avatar

      Either the Hilux or the Ranger. Whichever one of those it is though, you can be sure the driver is going to try and harass you if you’re in something smaller than them.

      • 0 avatar
        James Charles

        We still have a few Falcons and Commodores on the Road, plus a large number of real SUVs (hi-lo range 4x4s).

        I would say 25% of vehicles are the size of the Focus.

  • avatar

    “Asian or German (if money allows) vehicles than their parents. But there’s a shocking lack of utility vehicles in this list.”

    Another factor IMO is that many of these young adults grew up being shuttled around in their overprotective parents’ Explorers, Highlanders, and other CUV mommy mobiles and as such have a negative view of them just as Gen Xers shunned the minivans they were forced to ride in. If this is true and these young adults continue to prefer sedans as they age, then there’s hope for the sedan yet…unless you’re Ford, FCA and possibly GM.

  • avatar

    As a self-proclaimed auto enthusiast, I’m not representative, but I am turning 30 this year, and suffice to say, my 13-year old Forester is going to be replaced by a hybrid sedan–either an Accord or the just-revealed 2020 Sonata in about year’s time. I’ve driven the practical boxy thing; I want something sleeker and more luxurious. No crossover–with its essentially purposeless extra 6-8″ of height–strikes me as sleek, and reduced weight has only benefits.

  • avatar

    SUVs simply cannot turn or burn. A 1990 Pontaic 600ste will out handle any SUV today.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    There was an article here on TTAC the other day about Millennials. Maybe a larger portion use their parents wheels nowadays. Why buy and maintain?

  • avatar

    As a millennial auto enthusiast, I’ve been plagued my whole adult life by several major problems with cars: any new car worth owning is far too expensive to even consider, reliable used cars are not fun, and fun used cars are not reliable. Thus, even on my salary, which admittedly is above the national mean, I still have to decide between saving for retirement, while still being able to do fun things in life, or buying a fun car. Thus I’ve always had boring cars.

    I don’t really see this changing. As life progresses, I’m seeing my parents finally get to a place where they bought the newest car they have ever owned, and its 4 years old. My income would have to greatly surpass theirs to ever consider buying an actual honest-to-goodness new car. I hope that happens, but considering they are 30 years older than I am, well it explains why the auto industry makes what they make.

    The car my parents bought was a Subaru Forester from 2015. It’s an SUV, not for any of the cliche reasons, It’s because she has trouble getting into a car. They are too low.

    IMO, as regulations and market pressures force the price of cars to climb, younger buyers will more and more be forced into buying used, and the market will become saturated with luxury SUVs only, because only those over 60 will be able to afford new cars, and they won’t want to climb down into, and climb up out of a car every day.

    • 0 avatar

      theBrandler, that has already happened and nearly completely. Truck/SUV/CUV/van may break 2/3 of the market this year. Median buyer age is almost 60.

      The other factor here is the political affiliation of new-car buyers. It’s 20/80 donkey/elephant. At the same income level, a suburban Democrat is 1/3 to 1/2 as likely to buy a new car in a given year as a suburban Republican. That doesn’t help the popularity of small external dimensions, of low roofs, of low beltlines, of small wheels, of high ride frequencies, of HEV/PHEV/BEV powertrains…

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll give you emissions and footprints, you have to hate yourself a lot to care about those, but when did beltlines become a partisan divide? Two of the airiest vehicles on the market are the Subaru Forester and the F-250.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s an “openness” versus “perceived protection” divide. The example we were given at FCA was Intrepid versus Magnum; in customer clinics people who preferred a V6, FWD, and greater space efficiency in a full-size sedan preferred the lower beltline, while those who wanted a V8 and RWD wanted a higher one.

    • 0 avatar


      Very well stated, thank you.

  • avatar

    Technically a millennial here by age range, although I’m nearly 36, am not easily offended and don’t expect everything to be handed to me. I recently decided to downsize from a 2015 F150 with the 5.0L to a 2017 focus ST. Not a thought was given to a crossover as the acquisition cost would have been higher and the driver engagement level much lower. Also, the smaller crossovers provide not much more cargo and utility than a hatchback.

  • avatar

    34 so i guess im a millennial

    i own a house which i paid off at 32.
    make roughly $50k a year
    i hate all crossovers. burn them all to hell.
    my stable has 4 cars. a 2014 mustang convertible, and 3 Lexus Ls400s, a 95, 99,& 2000.

    could give a damn about bluetooth connectivity or backup cameras. dont care about good gas mileage. i refuse to drive anything that isnt RWD and has at least 8 cylinders

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    formula m

    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.

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