By Ted Laturnus | The Georgia Straight

Millennials are now the biggest generation, populationwise. Born between 1980 and 2000, the so-called Generation Y is the largest demographic group in North America.

But unlike boomers, millennials aren’t throwing themselves into automobile ownership with enthusiasm. Yes, they’re buying, but the “emotional connection” that was part and parcel of growing up and buying a car in the ’50s and ’60s isn’t there. Many millennials, it seems, view automobiles as a necessity rather than a lifestyle. That’s more than can be said for members of Generation X, who appear to have zero interest in automobiles. I once attended a new-model launch back in the ’90s where the marketing manager admitted that his company’s biggest challenge was convincing Gen-X buyers that driving a car was superior to skateboarding or riding a bike.

Depending on who you talk to, the reasons for Generation Y’s seeming ambivalence are varied. For one thing, money is tighter. Gas and cars are pricier. As well, insurance in some parts of the country is prohibitively expensive. Not to mention stricter rules for getting your driver’s licence.

The skyrocketing cost of real estate doesn’t help. For many first-timers, after buying a home, there isn’t enough left to cover the costs of a car. In an ironic twist of fate, millennials, the best-educated generation of all, are often burdened with heavy student-loan debts, which adds to the problem.

As well, public transit is more efficient than it used to be, and with the range of smartphone apps and social-networking sites available, it’s more practical. Car-sharing services such as Zipcar, Modo, and Car2Go have some 1,200 vehicles between them in Vancouver, with more to come.

It could also be a cultural thing. According to a story in the Washington Post, cars are viewed by many millennials as a mode of transportation and not as a status symbol or a way to have fun, and many of them factor in the environmental impact of automobiles. Gen-Y buyers also tend to be better informed and much pickier.

Nonetheless, cars are still moving out of the showrooms—if not as quickly. A 2014 study by the auditing firm Deloitte indicates that three-quarters of all millennials plan to buy or lease a car within the next five years, and some 25 percent of all new-car purchases are by them.

In the U.S., the top five cars purchased by Generation Y buyers are the Scion tC, the Mitsubishi Lancer, the Volks-wagen GTI, the Acura ILX, and the Mazda3—at least, according to a 2013 post on AutoGuide.com.

In Canada, things are a bit different. The top five makers preferred by millennials are Honda, Toyota, VW, Mazda, and Ford, with the Civic, the Corolla, the Jetta, the Mazda3, and the Focus ranking highest.

No huge surprise there. The Civic has been the best-selling car in Canada, period, for at least the past 17 years, and the Corolla and Mazda3 aren’t far behind. As of 2014, the five top-selling cars in Canada are the Civic, the Hyundai Elantra, the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda3, and the Chevy Cruze.

Here’s a more relevant statistic: according to InsuranceHotline.com, the least expensive cars to insure in Canada are the Hyundai Accent, the VW Jetta, the Honda Accord, the Ford Fusion, and the Hyundai Elantra.

It’s also interesting to note that most Gen-Y buyers place fuel economy, affordability, a pleasing body style, and, most importantly, up-to-date high-tech accessories above things like power, performance, and comfort. Unlike with the boomers, millennial women are buying cars more than ever and influencing buying decisions even if they’re not actually signing on the dotted line.

What are manufacturers doing about it? Plenty. Things like Bluetooth connectivity and driver-vehicle interface are commonplace. Toyota simply reinvented itself with its Scion line, distancing the company from the stuffy, mom-and-pop image associated with the Camry and the Corolla and aiming at younger buyers with affordable, entertaining models like the tC and xB. And a couple of years ago, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors introduced the Tru 140S and Code 130R concept cars, which are designed to appeal to younger buyers.

 

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