• Study examines "next-generation car buyer"
  • Youngest drivers prefer style and technology
  • Drivers seek more practicality as they age

Imagine walking into a new-car dealership, getting the information and answers you need and then being given time to consider your options in a low-pressure environment. That's the experience the next-generation car buyer wants, according to a new study by AutoTrader.com. Based on a survey, it examines perceptions of cars and car shopping, and contrasts young people's shopping behaviors with those of older shoppers. The results expose surprising trends.

For example, Millennials depend more on word of mouth when car shopping than other generations surveyed; 43 percent of 16 to 32 year olds surveyed cited word-of-mouth advice as key to their research versus 28 percent of Gen-Xers (33-47 years old) and 24 percent of Baby Boomers (46-66 years old). And while Baby Boomers are more likely to be introduced to their next new car in a dealer's showroom, Millennials depend more on family and friends to find the car they want.

Once they visit a dealer, the next generation of car buyers enjoys browsing the choices more than older shoppers do. Isabelle Helms, AutoTrader.com's senior director of research and marketing analytics, summed up the typical young car shopper's ideal dealership experience.

"Millennials view the dealership as a key piece of their research process -- they're looking for experts to help answer their questions and to touch and test out the physical car before making a purchase," Helms said. "That said, Millennials want time and space to make the right decision, and will value the salespeople who provide the information they seek in a no-pressure way."

The choices most likely to attract young drivers depend largely on the driver's age, according to the study. Those drivers 16 to 24 years old want style and the latest technology. Those drivers 25 to 32 years old are more concerned with practicality. Attributes such as safety and performance are among their top considerations.

Both groups are attracted to premium brands they say reflect their self-images. BMW, Mercedes and Audi all scored highly among Millennials for style, sophistication and innovation. But those surveyed still said they're most likely to buy a vehicle from a mainstream brand such as Honda, Chevy or Toyota. And they're more familiar than older car shoppers with import brands such as Hyundai, Kia and Mazda.

"There's much more of a level playing field in their minds," Helms said. "Millennials are more focused on which brands have the features and attributes they want, less on where a car may have been manufactured."

Young people aren't buying new vehicles in huge numbers like Baby Boomers, but they are still an important part of the automotive big picture. As their buying power increases, new cars and trucks -- and car dealerships -- will evolve to meet their wants and needs.

What it means to you: AutoTrader.com's study provides a look into the future of the automobile industry by comparing young people's opinions about cars and car shopping to those of older generations.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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