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Will Cars Ever Be "Cool" Again

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On: Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 11:57AM | By: Elizabeth Puckett

Will Cars Ever Be "Cool" Again

The attitudes of the average 20-something and 30-something have changed dramatically since the 1970s and 80s. Evidence is mounting that younger Americans just don’t have the automotive passions of their parents, and this is disconcerting to auto executives everywhere. 

The question is, will a new wave of cool cars inspire this generation (and future generations) to fall in love with the automobile... or has America's love affair with the automobile peaked?

If the auto industry is going to match the pace of growth they've seen over the last 50 years, they need to find ways to inspire 18–34-year-olds. From declining interest in driving itself (many younger people aren't getting their driver’s licenses until later in life), to increased interest in public transportation (see this research by the Frontier Group), to the reduced affordability of the automobile, automakers are facing a difficult challenge when it comes to getting younger consumers excited about cars.

Even the popular car show culture is starting to fade as people don’t have any interest in restoration and matching numbers muscle cars like they once did. While classic car shows are still very popular, many people who regularly attend these shows (like myself) are seeing a lot of the same cars over and over again (classics or otherwise), and we're not seeing nearly as many young people as we used to.

With declining interest in vehicles among younger consumers, automakers have shifted their focus. The 2014 Corvette Stingray is a great example of this new youth-oriented focus on design and technology.

• The vehicle's performance is solid, with a 0-60 time of less than four seconds. Yet this performance level is available on the base model—this is a break with the typical setup, where the high performance model is considerably more costly than the base version.

• The Vette's fuel efficiency is incredible, with an EPA rating of 29mpg on the highway... this addresses a key concern that many younger consumers have about making environmentally sound purchases.

• The new Vette comes with an infotainment system that won a “Best of CES” (Consumer Electronics Show) award from CNET.com, an acknowledgment that younger consumers expect their vehicles and their smart phones to be integrated.

The new Vette hits all the notes that are important to younger buyers, and that's not an accident. In addition to designing the vehicle with young buyers in mind, the vehicle enjoys prominent placement in numerous video games as well as the next release in the Transformers movie series.

GM isn't the only company thinking about young buyers. After the global success of the GT-86/Scion FR-S, Toyota is rumored to have plans for a smaller, even more affordable rear wheel drive sports coupe. This car will target consumers in their early 20s with attractive pricing and styling that will (hopefully) resonate with them. Much like the GT-86/FR-S, Toyota will work with after-market companies to ensure this newest sports coupe will be raced and modified by trendsetters in drift racing, motocross, etc.

With the declining interest of younger consumers, there is good cause to be pessimistic about the future of the auto industry. However, decision makers at automakers big and small aren't giving up on young buyers. The question is, will it be enough? Will cars ever be “cool” again, or will they forever be replaced by tablets, smart phones, etc.?


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