A few weeks ago, I wrote about the dichotomy of market that automotive manufacturers are facing – a rough economy that has consumers holding onto their for longer, and a new generation of buyers with different priorities that just doesn’t see the value in owning an automobile.

This month I had the chance to attend an Automotive News Marketing seminar at the Grand Hyatt NYC where the CMOs of several top manufacturers execs discussed their recent marketing tactics, successes and challenges. In addition to quoting that “46% of those aged 18-24 would prefer access to the internet over an automobile”, Bernie Glaser, CMO of Mercedes Benz, and his team heard a very interesting insight from a Millennial in one of their focus groups. “My life can’t end once I get into this car…” He didn’t elaborate on what exactly this young man meant, but one can assume he meant he couldn’t be cut off from ‘his world’ once he got into the car. You can imagine the audible gasp from the room full of seasoned automotive businessmen as this was revealed. After all, a car is a symbolic gateway to freedom.

As someone who could not wait to get my first car, I struggle to imagine life ‘ending’ once in a car; my car was where I was able to truly live. I could go anywhere, see anyone, do anything – the opportunities were endless. As a New Yorker who has been without a car for eight long years, I yearn for the days of driving on a beautiful day, the windows down and the music turned up – feeling so alive!

How can auto makers bring back that ‘loving feeling’? How can they begin to entice Millennials back to the vehicle and reassure them life won’t end once they are in the car?

  1. More location based apps and features within the vehicle itself. According to data collected by location-based ad network JiWire, 28% of 18-34 year olds are using location based apps multiple times a day – 53% are interested in finding store locations, 46% in points of interest, 40% in connecting with others, 32% in checking in.  Imagine a vehicle that not only helps you find your favorite store/stop, but then ‘checks you in’ once you arrive. Or how about a vehicle that automatically texts your friends when you are within a half mile radius of their location?
  2. Or how about a car that’s more Nightrider than Back to the Future – by hooking up your phone to the dash, your friend’s tweets, updates and other activities are broadcast through the speakers and voice recognition software allows you to reply, like or comment?

  3. Millennials are the inclusive generation, believing in a ‘we’ society, so how about introducing car sharing programs similar to a Zipcar or Hertz on demand? Millennials are socially and environmentally conscious and don’t see car ownership as a status anymore. Why not make play to the trend that it’s cool to rent/share, like we see playing out in other industries?

Whether it is making cars more social media savvy, better integrating with gadgets that are rarely out of reach, or changing the perception of owning a car amongst Millennials, one thing is clear… it won’t be your father’s Buick anymore.