The Auto Industry Doesn't Get Generation Y

As I start this post I know where its going. It will start fine (but not as good as it could be), much like Batman with Michael Keaton, it will turn into an incongruent mess like Batman & Robinala George Clooney, and finally it will finish strong like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Ok… maybe its an incongruent mess already.

In my previous post and in my recent twitter posts I have been vocal about the fact that the auto industry doesn't get Gen Y. Though this is a thought that I have had for some time, the realization got the best of me due to a recent article in Forbes that Yahoo Autos picked up:

"Selling cars to young adults under 30 is proving to be a real challenge for automakers. Unlike their elders, Generation Yers own fewer cars and don't drive much. They're likely to see autos as a source of pollution, not as a sex or status symbol.

This generation focuses its buying on computers, BlackBerrys, music and software and views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train, said Mr. Draves"

First, any auto manufacture needs that is taking advice from Mr. Draves needs to reassess that relationship immediately. Though its clear that he is experienced, his analysis is flawed from the start. Literally. The first thing he is quoted in the article as saying is "It's a matter of mind-set far more than affordability." I guess Mr. Draves forgets that those in Gen Y are taking the brunt of the recession and poor labor market. Oh, and PDAs? I don't think this is 1997.

1997 is important though. Why? Because of the Toyota Corolla. In 1997 the Toyota Corolla became the best selling car in America. But before we go any further, we need to wind back another 40 years, to 1957. 1957 gave us what else but the '57 Chevy. To call a car iconic is a bit hackneyed, but the 57 is an icon. So why am I mentioning two cars that could not be less similar in the same paragraph? Because they were the cars that defined the worlds in which Gen Y and the Boomers came of age.

Imagine this… its 1962. You are 15 years old. Your parents are down the street at the Smith's for the evening. Glistening on the key hook in the kitchen are the keys to your Dad's 1957 Fuel Injected 283 V-8. Your younger brother runs upstairs to hide as he knows he doesn't want to be a part of what is going to happen next. Before you can think, the keys are in your hand and you are screaming down the block.

Now imagine this… its 1997. You are 15 years old. Your parents are down the street seeing the Smith's (Hey Jim! Remember that time you took out your old man's car while your folks were at my parents?!). Glistening on the key hook in the kitchen are the keys to your parents' brand new… 1997 98 cubic inch Inline 4. Your younger brother runs in fear as you go after him to steal his Game Boy, because why the hell would you go joy riding in a Corolla?
These may seem like exaggerations, but considering they were the two top selling cars of these two years, it is highly likely that these very scenarios were repeated over and over again, across the nation.

So lets flash forward a bit. Its 1969 and you just turned 22. You are getting established in your life and are thinking about getting your first brand new car. No kids yet… a good job… and the old thing you can think about is how that small block roared when you gave it a bit of gas just 7 years ago. So what to do? A Mustang or Camaro?

Now its 2004. You just graduated from college. Time to get a car so you can get to work every day! And what do you get…??? And theres the rub…
We go off on this tangent about Blackberries and the environment (by the way, of course our generation views cars as having environmental impact, but this has nothing to do with anything) when it is the automakers that failed to provide our generation with the passion that one needs to love cars. Even the media's portrayal of our relationship with vehicles clearly demonstrates this. Our parents get Bullitt. We get The Fast and The Furious.

The lack of an automotive culture being instilled in this generation at a young age is but one error that has led to Gen Y not being interested in cars. The second is not making any cars worth driving. I hear murmurs of discontent from the car lovers, but before you revolt, lets honestly think about the late 90s and early 2000s. What cars out there are truly worth driving and enjoyable enough to get people "hooked?" There were some, but they were essentially niche cars that never got the press or mainstream attention that they deserved, and as a result still command a relatively high price in the enthusiast community.

The larger point I am trying to make is that driving was dumbed down so far that drivers' cars became exclusive items. Instead of ALL cars being suitable for being driven, the marketplace was taken over by the aforementioned Corollas and their even worse American counterparts (looking at you Cavalier). This wasn't just a problem from the 90s/2000s, it was an issue that started with the economic downturns of the 1970s and 1980s that simply never was corrected (said while acknowledging that the venerable Panther Platform was developed by Ford during this time period).

So here we are with a generation raised on Mini-Vans, SUVs, and "appliance" vehicles… is anyone surprised that this generation is not as passionate about cars as our parents? Yet its interesting. Our parents grew up with these amazing machines yet they are the ones that sought out these very vehicles that we were raised with. So if out generation is being dismissed as not being interested in cars because, to paraphrase Mr. Draves, we are wasting all of our money on technology, what does it say about previous generations who had the benefit of that exposure but rejected it for the least car like vehicles on the road?

Mr. Draves's attempt to provide meaningful analysis to the auto industry is clearly genuine, but its misguided. It appears to be a Boomer trying to fit us into a preconceived box using flawed assumptions or surveys. The heart of the issue is that even if his surveys are not flawed, the historical love of vehicles is not there, so, what else does our generation have to turn to but the tech gadgets he mentions?

This is where the auto-manufactures must step up to the challenge of redefining the driver experience for Gen Y.

Next time, (the Dark Knight section of the post... if they let me...), how the auto industry can get past this.

This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"