The Key to Driving Gen Y

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Jacqueline Barba in Think With Google:

Gen Ys are a tough crowd for automakers. According to reports, they aren’t all that interested in buying or owning cars. They don’t even really like cars, and they’re not so keen on driving, either. To put this in perspective, the list of things that Gen Ys like better than cars includes the internet, iPhones, tablet’s, and – according to one study published by Auto News – visiting the dentist.

That’s exactly how I feel about cars – maybe apart from the dentist thing. For me, using public transport and car pooling is usually cheaper and easier than owning and maintaining a private car. Another article covering the topic by Hasan Dudar & Jeff Green on Bloomberg tries to give an explanation:

“A car is a symbol of freedom,” said Alexander Edwards, president of the automotive division of Strategic Vision Inc., a San Diego-based consumer-research firm. “But unlike previous years, there are many different ways that a Gen Y person can capture that freedom.”

I see mainly two types of those ways mentioned in the quote:

  1. Digital tools like email, instant messaging, video calls, social networks, etc. They are cheap and readily available. One might argue, that the experiences resulting from the use of these tools aren’t as good as those resulting from meet-ups in the physical space. On the other hand, digital communication is still better than no communication at all. And at least for me, emails and video calls are an additional way to stay in touch – not a substitute. I still visit friends and family whenever possible.
  2. Mobility in the form of public transport, car pooling, car sharing, rental cars, bikes, etc. Today I don’t need to actually own a car in order get anywhere. A privately owned car is just one option among many others – one that comes with very high initial costs.

So if Gen Ys aren’t interested in buying cars – what are automakers supposed to do? Jacqueline Barba argues that „[t]o today’s young consumers, what counts is the ‚experience‘, not the ‚object‘.“ I mostly agree with this statement, but the remainder of her argument is weak. She suggests that car dealers need to enhance the process of choosing and buying a car – with digital tools and otherwise:

Ideally, the entire experience of car shopping – from search, to research, to peer polling, to test drive, to purchase – should be just that: An experience.

I don’t think that’s enough to save the automotive industry. If one doesn’t have the desire to own a car in the first place, no car shopping experience – good or bad – will make you buy such a vehicle. The experience I’m looking for is not one of buying a car but one of having a great trip – regardless of the vehicle.

That’s why Daimler is currently my favorite automotive company. In recent years the firm made several investments that focus on offering mobility rather than selling cars, like

  1. car2go – a carsharing service offering Smarts in 17 cities. Once you registered for the service, you can use the website or smartphone apps to find a car, pick it up, go where you need to go and just leave the car there (if this place is within the „home area“). You’re charged either by the minute or the hour (whichever is cheaper for the user).
  2. myTaxi – an app that reduces the hassle of getting a cab. You can choose your cabdriver based on ratings from other users, see when your cab will arrive, pay cashless from within the app and rate the experience yourself.
  3. carpooling – a website / app that offers a platform to share a ride and hence save money. At least the German page is not limited to sharing a trip by car. You can also share group tickets offered by the Deutsche Bahn.
  4. moovel – an app helping you to get from one place to another place at a certain time. It presents different modes of transportation like public transport, walking/biking and renting a car via car2go. Currently the app supports only Berlin and Stuttgart, but once it expands it’s scope I can easily see it as the one-stop app for mobility, especially in cities I’m not familiar with.

So to get back to the original article and the headline of this post: The key to driving Gen Y is offering mobility as a service and thus enabling and enhancing experiences. This mobility may be provided by cars – just as well as any other form. Improving the way your customers buy a car may help you to compete against other automakers – it won’t bring back people who don’t have any desire or need to own a car in the first place.

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