Automakers are used to hearing that Generation Y consumers are more interested in connectivity in their vehicles than anything else. But a new study by GfK and the Consumer Electronics Association provides evidence that Millennials also are poised to become early adopters of a whole range of other types of new technology in cars — and that they may even be willing to pay for it if they can.
Among other things, the study results suggest that car companies could benefit by pressing more new technology into less-expensive cars from the git-go, hoping to snag early-adopting young consumers and then counting on it to bubble up to older generations, much as smartphones and other digital advances have.
The industry’s traditional approach is to introduce the latest gee-whiz devices and systems into higher-end vehicles and then count on their appeal to trickle down, with economies of scale also bringing down costs as the technology spreads.
“Younger people tend to be technology adopters, but the industry typically has started with higher-priced vehicles and then come down,” Jeff Campana, senior vice president of the automotive team for GfK, told me. “But if you think about other fields, such as smartphones and tablets, that all actually started with young people. They’re the technology leaders.”
Campana noted that, of course, Millennials “have budgets,” and a higher portion of them are underemployed and jobless than their older counterparts. But the GfK study showed that “they would be willing to pay more out of the budgets they have” for the right features in a car. “That’s why they’re all running around with iPhones.”
And, surprisingly, GfK found that it isn’t just smartphone and internet connectivity that interests younger consumers in today’s vehicles. They’re also very intrigued by a category of what the firm called “well-being” features and devices such as systems to keep drivers from falling asleep, vital-sign monitors and massaging seats to prevent muscle fatigue — even cabin-air filters and enhancers.
Another interesting finding of the research was that Generations Y and Z were more attracted than older Americans specifically to features that benefit passengers rather than, or as well as, drivers. “They’re more likely to be passengers,” Campana said, “and so they’re not as satisfied about being in the vehicle as passengers.”
Thus, Millennials tended to express annoyance at passengers being shorted on features such as adjustable seats. They also expressed a desire for systems that would allow them to, for example, play a game connected by the car to their smartphones or tablets. “It’s about being able to do things while you’re in the car,” he said. “When they get in a car now as a passenger, it’s dead time to them.”
Dale Buss Contributor
I am grounded in autos but range broadly. full bio →