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A Case Study for Millennial & Generation Z Car Buying Habits

Automotive News Millennial & Gen Z

Digging into what motivates younger generations to purchase their next car.

There is a lot of talk about how to motivate Millennial and Generation Z prospects to be more engaged in the automobile marketplace. Companies are creating apps, subscription programs, flashy color combos and dazzling onboard tech, designed to capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of young consumers. 

Asking Millennial and Generation Z's what they desire in a car and what motivates them to purchase a vehicle is a direct way of getting the answers and insights you need. Their responses confirm a lot of what  321 Ignition  knows about this audience, from metrics and analytics to behavioral science and AI. 

Dan O’Neill is a 23-year-old Computer Science / Mathematics graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. He works various jobs as he interviews with companies to apply his prized technical skills. 

His first car as a teenager is the now discontinued “youth brand," 2008 Scion TC from Toyota.  O'Neill bought it with a little help from his Mother, but mostly by himself.

"I wouldn’t say I’m a gear head," O'Neill said. "But I definitely like cars and have a certain tech-driven consumer interest in what makes them good or bad and how to choose the right vehicle.” 

After graduation, O'Neill decided to step up his game from his formative teen wheels to something more substantial. He's always been a fan of the Nissan Z series sports car, with a deep appreciation for the classic models built in the early 70s, long before his first birthday.

O'Neill focused his car buying sights on the 2007 Nissan 350Z, a rakishly slick sporty car, with a long track record and sufficiently fervent fan base. He made the most of the online info base during his monthlong search and verification shopping process.  

In addition to the overall look and mystique of the Z-car, O'Neill was impressed with its combined 34 MPG ratings and its 0-60 acceleration time of 4.7 seconds. 

Because there are so many Z-cars on the road, internet research proved to be productive for him. He used  www.CarComplaints.com, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, various sources aggregating crash safety, and recall notices and tech service bulletins.

“Personally my biggest considerations after choosing the Nissan Z were evaluating its safety and long-term reliability,” O'Neill said. ”I got a lot of reliable basic information from the manufacturer and started watching ads and getting Google notices for Nissan 350Z models being listed for sale across many online resources.” 

Even though O'Neill ended up investing a month before buying a dealer-advertised 2007 Nissan Z350, he was wary of working with a car dealership.

“In terms of used cars, they seem to stand in your way…guiding the buyer away from what they want to cars that the dealership wants to sell,” O'Neill said.

O'Neill believes that dealerships make the buying process complicated and consequently confuses buyers with practices like adding fees after arriving at a price. 

"They make it hard to get a pre-purchase inspection. I think a third-party inspection is essential.  And you have to really examine the used car warranties they sell because they often have major gaps that would lead to nasty surprises up the road," O'Neill said.

O'Neill is mostly skeptical of what a dealership sales staff knows about the cars they sell.

“You can’t expect them to know everything about every car but if you want to know if the car has upgraded parts like aftermarket intakes and exhausts. They usually don’t, so as a consumer, you have to be informed and be your own advocate. All the info is out there.” O'Neill said. 

Even though Millennials like O'Neill are 50 years past the earliest days of the consumer movement, they echo the same advice as pioneering advocates like Ralph Nader — “Knowledge is power in car buying. Don’t rely on the salespeople at the dealership when you can find out the real details on your own.” 

After successfully buying his sharp-looking Nissan 350Z for $10,000, saving some money by bargaining based on specific knowledge about the car that he dug up from his research, O'Neill helped his younger sister get a sweet deal on a 2014 Toyota Camry using his highly informed and deliberative process. All occurred before he stepped through the doors of a showroom.