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Riding In Cars With Millennials: How Brands Are Trying to Hook Next Gen Drivers

From car-focused experiences to tech solutions, auto brands are pulling out all the stops to get Millennials behind the wheel…

Let’s get this out of the way first: Millennials are buying cars. The improving economy has decreased underemployment, allowing for more to buy cars and houses, and according to Time,  in 2014, Millennials beat Gen X in overall car sales. Bentley calls Millennials “increasingly important” noting that they’re the “largest potential consumer group today, and their influence is greater than simply the money that they have to spend.” Audi has reported a 23% increase of Millennials buying their vehicles in the past two years. According to a Ypulse’s monthly survey, 71% of 18-33-year-olds report that they personally own/lease an automobile, 52% of 18-33-year-olds say they plan to buy a car in the next one to five years, and 19% plan to buy one in the next year.

But, as they do with almost everything, Millennials approach the car buying process differently, and their motivations for buying a car might not align with previous generations. While Xers might have been thrilled to buy a luxury car to impress their friends, Millennials don’t want to be ostentatious, and the word “luxury”—a go-to marketing term for the auto industry, doesn’t mean the same thing to them. Their buying process is impacted by their tendency to research everything to death online, making them feel like experts by the time the come into a dealership, and their impatience with red tape and antiquated paperwork. In other words, to get this generation, who are proving they do want to drive, behind the wheel, might take some new tactics. Here are four examples of how auto brands are going the distance to rethink car selling, and appeal to the next generation of drivers: 

Taking Them Beyond the Showroom

As mentioned, Millennials have a tendency to walk into a showroom knowing exactly what they want—after all, they’ve researched the cars that might be best for them online for weeks. It’s the last steps of the process that they need to take care of—including that classic test drive. But increasingly, brands are taking that test drive step and turning it into a full on experience to impress Millennial buyers. Adweek reports that Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and more are creating immersive destinations that allow visitors to do far more than take a gentle spin around the neighborhood. The Porsche Experience Center, opened in 2015, takes potential owners through an intense ride on a 1.6 mile track with the kind of tests you usually only see in commercials. BMW’s Performance Center offers a similar experience—and pairs some participants with Nascar vets. Visitors pay for their sessions, but get to test some of the fastest, craziest cars at the fastest and craziest pace available.

Gamified Marketing

Recently, Ford gave the standard test drive the Millennial treatment with an Escape the Room experience. To promote the 2017 Ford Escape, test drivers were invited to an “immersive group gaming experience” at the iconic Moynihan Station in NYC where they used the new car’s features—like streaming radio and voice-to-text capabilities—to solve puzzles and navigate rooms in the 35,000 square feet space. The experiential strategy is an effort to connect with Millennials in a “culturally relevant way,” and satisfy their desire for “unique shared experiences.” The event sold out in less than 24 hours, and might expand to other cities.

Auto Loans Via App

Car loans are a reality for drivers of all generations, but Millennials expect all of their financial interactions to be tech-forward and seamless. To meet those expectations and create a better car buying experience, JPMorgan has partnered with the digital car-buying platform TrueCar to create an app that makes auto financing as digital as car shopping has become. Chase Auto Finance’s head of retail lending tells Bloomberg, “The reality is that customers are shopping for everything online, even cars. By pairing online financing with the car-buying experience, we can deliver pre-approved customers to our dealers and dramatically simplify the car-buying process.” The app, Chase Auto Direct, helps users figure out financing options and get them approved for a loan, compare prices, and get suggestions for dealerships in the bank’s network.

VR Test Drives

As we outlined in our post on brands and VR, the technology has implications far beyond gaming and entertainment. Toyota Canada is bridging online shopping with an offline experience in a play for the urban Millennial consumer,  creating “Towards Tomorrow by Toyota,” an “interactive brand gallery” that features their city-focused cars. Consumers can participate in “virtual reality simulators, digital painting and interactive photo booths.” According to Toyota Canada, the experiential marketing was designed for their core consumers: the tech-savvy Millennials looking for “a different experience.” 

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.