Thursday, August 9, 2012

Does Gen Y Really Want Ugly Cars?

2011 Nissan Juke

Automotive manufacturers seem to be desperate to capture business from the seemingly elusive Generation Y. They are employing all kinds of tricks and gimmicks, even trying out things they would never dream using on Gen X or the Boomers, all with little to no success. GM and other automakers have even tried ads that use "cool" language popular with the generation. Perhaps the most jarring and interesting marketing technique is the manufacturing of ugly automobiles as a way to lure Generation Y to buy.

The list of ugly cars seems to be growing all the time. First there was the Honda Element, which isn't completely hideous. Most of the people I see driving them are older than I am. Other cars like the Nissan Cube or Scion IQ took the ugly factor further. Perhaps the ugliest car on the road today is the Nissan Juke.

I have to admit that ugly cars are nothing new. The Gremlin looked like it had been hit by the ugly stick a few thousand times. Some people may hate me for it, but I find the Fox platform Mustangs (from the 80s to early 90s) to be quite hideous. Then there was the horrible last generation of the Toyota Celica, which seriously looked like an angry rabbit. Of course there is always that ultimate in automotive ugliness: the Pontiac Aztec. When I think of all the ugly cars from the past I begin to think the ugly trend is one of the constants in the automotive industry. 

Toyota Celica

I'm really at the tail end of Gen X or the beginning of Gen Y, depending on how you draw the cutoff. Because of my unique position, perhaps I have a perspective not shared by many automotive executives. I don't think Gen Y is looking for ugly cars any more than any other generation has had an affinity for them. There will always be those tasteless people in every generation who wear white socks with dark pants and shoes, but they're always a minority. Instead, I think the real issue is affordability.

Gen Y has the unique pleasure of being the generation who gets to graduate into adulthood in a world that is in the throes of economic turmoil. Most people from the generation have also seen the horribly negative consequences of their parents' spend thrift mentality (a stereotypical trait of the Boomers) that is fueled by image consciousness. The result is many members of Gen Y cannot or do not want to afford an expensive vehicle. Because they are thinking about more than image, younger car buyers also want a vehicle that works in a day-to-day practical way. This means the car cannot be constantly needing maintenance, has enough cargo room, gets good gas mileage, etc.

While everyone is focusing on the ugly cars populating the roads (it's kind of hard to not gawk at them in horrid disbelief) many are missing some of the beauties that are favored by Gen Y. Sure, the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI that are so beloved by younger kids started out ugly, but they have transformed from ugly ducklings into curvy hatchbacks and sedans. The new Scion FRS/Subaru BRZ is another example of an attractive car that appeals to Gen Y. These are cars that provide a certain automotive experience or utility for significantly less money.

2012 Subaru BRZ

Perhaps the biggest factor fueling the ugly car movement is that kids just plain don't want to drive a car like mom's or dad's. There are a few exceptions to this, but most kids feel the intense desire to form their own identities. There's no denying that cars have been and for the foreseeable future will continue to be deeply tied to our personal identities. This is why so many of my generation are squeezing their kids into the cramped third rows of new crossovers rather than drive the more practical minivan that looks too much like what mom drove back in the day.

So automotive industry executives, listen up: Gen Y will buy attractive cars if they are affordable and don't look too much like the cars of the last thirty years.

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