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Young Car Buyers Want Hybrids, Lots of Tech

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in

According to a recent study by Deloitte, most car buyers between the ages of 19 and 31 prefer hybrids and cars with touch-screen interfaces, opting for fuel efficiency and interior tech over performance or luxury. This generation will soon account for a larger percentage of the new-car market than aging baby boomers, which means that new cars could change drastically in the upcoming years.

After seeing the results of Deloitte’s annual automotive-centered survey of Generation Y, Craig Giffi, vice chairman and automotive practice leader at Deloitte LLP, said that this could be the “generation that leads us away from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles,” USA Today reports. When first introduced, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles met with considerable pushback from consumers, enthusiasts and the auto industry, but younger buyers don’t seem to be as resistant against the alternative powertrains, according to the study.

Generation Y buyers are also interested in cars packed with technology, including smartphone integration and touch-screen interfaces, according to the Los Angeles Times. With systems like MyFord Touch and the Tesla Model S’ iPad-like touch-screen center stack, automakers have already started to address this in the market, but most reviewers say there’s lots of room for improvement. In particular, Ford’s MyFord Touch system has been panned for its labyrinthine setup, hard-to-use controls and buggy software.

2011 Ford Edge's MyFord Touch system

The recent Detroit Auto Show and Consumer Electronics Show mirror Deloitte’s results. In Detroit, BMW introduced a hybrid version of its 5-Series sedan, VW said that a Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid will make its way to dealer lots for the 2013 model year and Ford debuted a plug-in hybrid version of the 2013 Ford Fusion. The Consumer Electronics Show saw technology with more web access, and features that would reduce driver distraction while still allowing smartphone use. Chevrolet even discussed rear windows that would allow passengers to interact with what they see outside.

Automakers note that they will have to focus even more closely on non-performance aspects like fuel economy and technology in order to sell cars to Generation Y. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, “Winning over Gen Y consumers is challenging because they are not as enamored with cars as their parents, said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Co.'s president of the Americas. The number of 16 year-olds getting a driver's license declined 16 percent from 1978 to 2008 and young people are driving less, Fields said.”

However, fuel economy still takes a back seat to convenience when Generation Y compares plug-in vehicles with hybrids. “Even with their overall preference for hybrids, Gen Y consumers still prefer a non-plug-in hybrid by a margin of more than two-to-one over a plug-in version,” notes MarketWatch. That’s bad news for automakers like Mitsubishi and Nissan, who have pinned their hopes on plug-in electric cars like the Mitsubishi i and Nissan Leaf.

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