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The Auto Industry Makes a Long-Term Play for Millennial Car Buyers

Digital technology helps car brands gain an audience with the younger age group

The Great Recession decimated auto sales volume in the US across the board, and may have swept a significant fraction of the youngest consumers from the automotive market permanently, as many learned to make do without a vehicle.

However, according to a new eMarketer report, “Millennials and Autos: How the Young Can Be Won,” potential exists, and many brands have used innovative digital video, social media and car-sharing propositions to drive awareness and sales.

At approximately 86 million people, the millennial demographic represents a massive swell of the population. The consensus on volume, however, is that millennials are unlikely to buy as many cars per capita as their parents.

In 2001, 18- to 34-year-olds registered 24% of all new vehicles in the US, according to May survey results from J.D. Power and Associates and AARP. By 2012, that figure had dropped to 13%.

While per capita volume may stay down, US millennials will drive millions of sales for OEMs in the coming years. One advantage brands have in this effort is that interest in automotive content remains strong. The 18-to-34-year-old segment still makes up a large portion of digital automotive media consumption. Males in this age group visited automotive websites in greater proportion than any other group, according to a June 2012 Nielsen survey. Taken as a whole, 18- to 34-year-olds were a very close second to Gen X.

Mobile will be the dominant platform to reach US millennials for the foreseeable future. Millennials used mobile phones 2.5 times more than nonmillennials during the car shopping process, according to a 2012 Morpace and AutoTrader.com study. Top informational mobile activities included getting pricing, finding classified listings, locating a dealer, looking up specs and reading reviews.

And while it is important for marketers to keep up with new platforms, social sites are teeming with enough potential young consumers to drive banner years for any brand. Digital video has earned a good deal of automotive investment, as it tends to attract millennial-heavy audiences.

For the long-term play, OEMs are coming up with other innovative, brand awareness approaches to reaching millennials. For example, Ford has partnered with Zipcar on select college campuses to promote exposure to the company’s products on a nonsales, nonownership basis. Observers say such tactics, along with social media innovations, have helped Ford gain nearly 2 percentage points of market share since 2008 to own more than 11% of the 18-to-34 market, according to R.L. Polk data released in June 2012.


The full report, “Millennials and Autos: How the Young Can Be Won” also answers these key questions:

  • Is the dip in the number of US millennials driving cars permanent?
  • How can brands court this consumer group effectively amid economic challenges?
  • Is there value in marketing to someone who is unlikely to purchase a vehicle?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.


Corporate subscribers have access to all eMarketer analyst reports, articles, data and more. Join the over 750 companies already benefiting from eMarketer’s approach. Learn more.


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