Amy Chozick’s NY Times story – 3/22/12 is an eye-opener. GM is reaching out to MTV execs to step up its game with the youngsters.
It’s difficult for a late boomer generation male like me, who grew up in a car-loving family in the car-dependant suburbs, to wrap my head around this: Young American consumers are losing interest in the automobile.
As far back as the automobile has existed, it’s been a vehicle for escape. We couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel because doing so meant getting away. Car keys equal freedom.
We were into muscle cars. The conversation was all about the size of your “motor” and whether you were packing mechanical or hydraulic lifters, or whether your dual exhaust tips were connected to a true dual exhaust system. Now the car itself seems to be of no interest to the 18-24 crowd. They want to know what digital toys it has.
I can understand that with social media and all the new ways young people now have to connect, they may be less dependent on cars. But do they, as Ross Martin of Viacom suggests in Amy’s piece, think of a car as a “giant bummer?” I guess it depends on the car. If it’s a banged up Hyundai Accent, yeah that’s pretty much a bummer. But I think GM's problem is the same problem they've had for a long time now. Their products are either priced out of reach of the entry-level 18-24 consumer, or they are stripped down "losermobiles" that practically scream, "Hey, go next door to the Kia or Scion store. You'll find something better."
Are high gas prices and ridiculous insurance premiums for 17-24 year-old drivers to blame? Certainly neither is helping matters. Consider also that for consumers in this age bracket, money is tight. Even the cheapest new car is pretty expensive. And driving is - shall we say - not much fun these days.
I think we’ve finally come to a fork in the road. Will this lack of interest continue to trend downward? Will the youngest drivers prefer to drive something old and funky, or nothing at all? It will be very interesting indeed to see if GM can really make the necessary cultural changes to make their cars appealing again to young consumers? Those wheels turn awfully slow.