• Still interested in cars and driving
  • More likely to consider lesser-known brands
  • Dependent on research, including word-of-mouth

Although Millennials are waiting longer than earlier generations did to get their driver's licenses, these younger Americans are still interested in cars and driving. In fact, Millennials say they need to drive and want to drive; mostly, it's other factors responsible for the delay in getting licensed. Millennials shopping for and buying a car do so differently from older generations. Some of the differences are important for older drivers to consider, as these youngest American drivers may offer helpful tips to Gen X and Baby Boomers.

"The Next-Generation Car Buyer" study by AutoTrader.com reveals interesting insights into Millennials' perceptions and practices around cars and driving. The study, based on interviews with thousands of Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, shows that Millennials are image-conscious and aspirational in their preferences but that, as they age, they're likely to become more practical in their automotive tastes.

That makes sense. It's no surprise that young drivers lean toward vehicles that reflect their personalities or accomplishments. Older shoppers do, too, but to a lesser extent. And new models from luxury brands may help attract younger buyers, according to Rick Wainschel, AutoTrader.com's vice president of automotive insights.

"Lower-price-point vehicles such as the Mercedes CLA, BMW 1-series and Audi A3 are making luxury cars more attainable for Millennials earlier in life, which could help these brands establish long-term consideration and loyalty," Wainschel said.

Still, Millennials are more open to buying a car from less well-known brands than other car shoppers. Young shoppers are more likely to consider brands such as Kia and Mazda because of the popularity of import brands throughout their lives. Boomers and Gen Xers both include both Chevrolet and Ford among the brands that best fit their personalities. Older Millennials include only Chevy on that list, and younger Millennials include neither, listing only German and Japanese brands among those that best suit their personalities.

Research is another factor that helps Millennials make a smart decision when buying a car. While Baby Boomers are most likely to be introduced to their next new car at the dealership, word-of-mouth research such as a recommendation from a family member or a friend drives Millennials' car-buying decisions. And for Millennials, the dealership experience is more positive than it is for older shoppers. Isabelle Helms, AutoTrader.com senior director of research and marketing analytics, explains what Millennials want from a visit to the dealership.

"[Millennials are] 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."

For anyone buying a car, doing the research first, then visiting one or more dealerships for a hands-on look and a test drive is a good strategy. Millennials may have less experience buying cars than older Americans, but the automotive landscape has changed dramatically over the past few decades, as has shoppers' access to information about vehicles and even dealer inventories.

What it means to you: Older Americans may be wise to shop like a Millennial when it's time to buy a new car. Three tips: Stay open to a range of brands, do your research, and expect the dealer to let you shop at your pace.

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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