2012 Prius C

Gen Y may lead us to hybrid and electric cars with awesome apps

Younger auto-buyers are overwhelmingly looking for highly fuel efficient, hybrid, cars, with advanced infotainment features.

Deloitte released a preview of results of their yearly survey of Gen Y automotive buying habits, saying that the younger crowd have a "strong affinity for hybrid vehicles" and that "generation that leads us away from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles." Specifically they were shown to have a 57% preference for hybrid vehicles and given that Gen Y is 80 million strong, it's enough auto buyers to tip the scales significantly. And as Gen Y is the smart phone generation we should be unsurprised to learn they overwhelmingly want touch-screens on the dashboard.

Deloitte defines Gen Y (in case you needed to know) as those ranging in age from 19 to 31. The study, conducted in Sept and Oct 2011, is their yearly analysis of the buying habits of consumers, and covered 1500 Gen Y, Gen X and baby boomer people. Deloitte released the preliminary results at its Shifting Gears conference yesterday in Detroit, and final results are due to be released in February.

The results specifically break down as 57% preferring hybrid cars, 2% preferring pure electric cars, and 37% preferring a traditional gasoline driven drive train. Of those preferring a hybrid, they prefer the non-plug-in hybrids (66%) over the plug-in hybrids (33%) apparently in the belief that it's more convenient to go out of your way to a gasoline station to refill a gas tank, than it is to plug in.

As to why, the Gen Y crowd is concerned over the high price of gasoline. Eighty-nine percent are looking for high fuel efficiency, and this becomes especially important when gasoline prices rise. Some 49% of Gen Y auto-buyers are willing to pay extra for higher fuel efficiency.

"Gen Y consumers also view hybrid technology as proven and reliable," says Craig Giffi, vice chairman and automotive practice leader at Deloitte LLP. "Almost 6 in 10 Gen Y respondents prefer a hybrid over any other type of vehicle, while a mere 2 in 100 prefer a pure battery electric vehicle – demonstrating that Gen Y is familiar and comfortable with hybrid technology, but not so much with battery-only technology."

The study also revealed some preferences about the technology inside the cars. Those of us who had friends who went for awesome stereo systems (or were that person) should not be surprised to learn that overwhelmingly (73%) the younger car buyers want touch screens and other high tech goodness on the dashboard. Also overwhelmingly (77%) want to buy high-tech accessories for their cars after purchase.

These results fit rather well with the direction being taken by some of the automakers. For example the CEO's of both Ford and Daimler were at CES this year despite the fact that NAIAS happened the same week in Detroit. The keynote delivered by Daimler's Dr. Zetsche talked at length about the connected car and high fuel efficiency. Ford's strategy in the near term is to focus on fuel efficiency gains through better engines and weight reduction, while taking a slower approach to electrifying their vehicle fleet. The Toyota Prius C as a less expensive smaller version of the Prius, with the Entune infotainment system, is another example.

In Science they sometimes see that to adopt a radically new model of understanding requires a generational change, that is for the old guard to die off and the youth to come in with fresh new ideas. Is this what it will take for different transportation choices to take hold? If so, is this fast enough to prevent the climate change catastrophe awaiting us?

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