MBPT Spotlight: MTV Study Debunks Myths About Millennials And Their Cars; Offers Advice On How Automakers Can Tap Into The Demo

Message to the auto industry—millennials love their cars more than social media and texting.

That means there is clearly a potentially sizable consumer marketplace that automakers should be tapping into more aggressively.

This is the conclusion of a new MTV study that offers results very much in contrast to certain perceptions—namely, that a growing number of millennials have a lack of interest in driving, and that the number of young drivers is plummeting.

The study, the results of which were released at Friday’s National Automobile Dealers Association conference in San Francisco, found that 8 in 10 people age 18-34 get around most often by car as opposed to any other form of transportation. And that young people drive more miles per month than older generations—71% more miles per month than baby boomers and 18% more miles per month than gen-Xers.

The study also found that millennials drive an average of 934 miles per month, compared to 790 miles for gen-Xers and 544 miles for boomers. It also found, surprisingly, that millennials love their cars more than social media and texting, with 3 of 4 millennials agreeing they would rather give up social media for a day than give up their car for that period, and 72% agreeing they would rather give up texting for a week as opposed to their car.

The study offers points of entry for the auto industry to win over millennials with more targeted advertising, increased customization options and a more transparent buying process.

Titled “Millennials Have Drive,” the study was conducted in the spring of 2014 and involved 3,610 millennials, 400 gen-Xers and 403 baby boomers. It featured quantitative research as well as qualitative field studies including focus groups, one-on-one interviews, virtual travelogues, car-creation groups, deal-alongs, and expert and car dealer interviews. A second auto study will be released later in 2015.

The study findings debunk what it labels as five major myths about young people and the auto industry.

Myth #1: Millennials Don’t Drive.

The study found the reality was just the opposite—that driving is millennials’ “go-to” mode of transportation by a huge margin. It found that 80% of millennials get around most often by car, compared to 8% who most often walk, 8% who take public transportation, 2% who bike and 1% who use car services.

Myth #2: Millennials Don’t Want To Drive, Have No Interest In Getting Their License And Chose Other Methods of Transportation To Stay Connected.

The study points out that teens would be driving sooner, but state laws are holding them back with restrictions that were not in place for past generations when they were that age. Since 1990, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have implemented some form of license restriction laws that range from waiting periods for receiving licenses, to limited driving hours, to mandatory car decals, to limits on the number of people who can be in a car with a teen driver. Prior to 1990, there were no restrictions other than age.

Myth #3: Young People Don’t Like Cars And Don’t Find Them Essential.

The study states that young people not only like cars but are passionate about them. Some 70% of millennials say they enjoy driving, compared to 58% of boomers and 66% of gen-Xers. About 3 in 4 millennials agree that, “they couldn’t live without their current car.” That compared to 62% of baby boomers and 73% of gen-Xers. Also, 60% of millennials say they “feel like losers among their peers without their cars.”

Myth #4: Millennials Are Forgoing The Purchase Of Cars And Other Big Ticket Items.

In fact, as millennials get more integrated into the work place, their salaries are growing and they are looking to buy cars. About 80% of millennials see cars as the one big ticket item people their age purchase, and 60% would rather buy a car than lease one. And 33% say they plan to buy or lease a new car within the next six months.

Myth #5: Millennials’ True Love Is Technology, Especially Their Mobile Phones, And Cars Cannot Compete For Their Attention.

Millennials see both their car and their phone as a necessity to social connections, but 92% agree that having a smartphone does not replace the need for a car. Millennials value their cars and phones for similar reasons of accomplishing tasks, giving them freedom, allowing them to explore new places and learning new things, and allowing them to interact with friends and family.

So how do automakers make inroads into the millennial generation and sell them cars?

The study says the auto industry needs to understand what drives millennials that is different from previous generations and tap into their emotional needs to win them over.

Millennials are a more inpatient generation and also a generation that defines being a successful adult not by independence alone but by independence with individuality. Millennials want to reach the same milestones as previous generations, but they want to do it faster and in their own unique way. And millennials believe their cars play an important role in their growth.

Some 76% of millennials say it’s important that their next car gives them control, and 88% agree it’s important that their car is always reliable. Some 90% say having a car means having more freedom and 77% feel it’s important that their next car makes them feel happy.

Millennials more than previous generations believe their cars define who they are. Some 73% of millennials say it’s important that their car reflects who they are, compared to 48% of boomers and 64% of gen-Xers. And 63% of millennials say it’s important that their car helps them become who they want to be, compared to 50% of boomers and 24% of gen-Xers.

The good news for automakers is that no one brand is ahead of another when it comes to getting millennials’ attention. Of the five favorite major auto brands among millennials, all index above an average of 100 on the values of control (125) and freedom (106). They do fall below the norm when it comes to the millennial value of “making my mark” (92).

The statistic that 73% of millennials say they are willing to pay more for car brands they love, the survey says, opens the door for the auto industry to better reach this audience. To make the auto-buying process more appealing to millennials, the study suggests that it be made more transparent. That includes standardized ratings and comparisons, since 71% of millennials say they find ratings and comparisons among different vehicles unclear. It also includes instant communication with brand experts who are separate from sales people to answer questions—73% of millennials surveyed said they love learning about new car models and functions.

Among the other desires by millennials related to the auto industry:

• 83% wish car brands would explain more about how vehicle prices are set.

• 80% feel that buying/leasing a car should take less time than it does.

• 87% enjoy customization and want to play around with different interior looks and tech features.

• 88% wish there were more affordable ways to customize their cars.

• 71% agree that they like to customize their cars more on the inside than outside.

Regarding advertising:

• 57% of millennials say auto ads influence their purchasing decisions. That compares to 33% of baby boomers and 42% of gen-Xers.

• 50% don’t feel that current car ads speak to who they are.

• 63% love when car companies seem plugged into pop culture by doing things like partnering with music artists. That compared to 30% of boomers and 52% of gen-Xers.

• 70% say car ads catch their attention more when they have music in them.

• 58% love car brands that introduce them to new music.

“Millennials are perhaps the most sophisticated consumers the world has ever seen,” says Jeff Lucas, head of sales, music and entertainment, Viacom Media Networks. “They are highly educated, demanding and incredibly adept at using technology to make thoughtful purchases.”

And of course, millennials are the target audience of MTV, and this study can be used by the network to motivate auto companies to advertise in the network’s programming.