The Millennials: Actually, They're Just Like Everybody Else

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jul 13, 2015

Millennials (born between 1977 and 1994) must feel very privileged, because we’re endlessly debating what they want and don’t want. Will they own cars or not? The smart money lately has been that they will scorn car ownership in favor of the sharing model, live in central cities and take public transit everywhere. Given gridlock, climate change and local air pollution, that’s an encouraging picture.
 Now it appears that the millennials are indeed buying cars. So much for the anti-materialist trend. (Enterprise photo)But what if, like most of us, the millennials didn’t really know what they wanted? Who’s all that squared away when they’re, at most, 38? Well, OK, maybe you should have found a direction by then—but what’s with all those stories about post-college kids heading home for the free food, lodging and laundry?
Enterprise Holdings, which includes the Enterprise, National and Alamo rental brands, recently released a survey concluding that a whopping 91 percent of millennials say it is “extremely” or “very important” to own a car to “accomplish daily work and life tasks.” Who knew?
What people say and what people do isn’t always the same, but in this case it’s supported by new data from J.D. Power showing that millennials now account for 27 percent of new car sales—the second largest group of buyers (after baby boomers).
Also intriguing is that 68 percent of millennials say they have considered buying a specific model after renting or sharing it. “Exposure leads to conquest,” Susan Lombardo, senior vice president of vehicle acquisition at Enterprise, told me. That suggests, among other things, that it’s important to get electric and hybrid cars into rental and sharing fleets. Young drivers need to see that going green isn’t like having to eat your spinach.
Lombardo also told me that consumers’ perception of a brand will be affected by how many options (leather seats, sunroofs, high-end audio) are on the rental car. And that, of course, is why the reviewer cars I get are invariably loaded.
 First-time home buyers. The next step, of course, is purchasing a car. (Matthew Hurst/Flickr)Lombardo agrees that as millennials make more money and take on more responsibility (house, job, kids maybe) they probably think, “Gosh, I need a car!” It’s part of the suburban lifestyle, she said. So the trajectory is this: Graduate from college, head to the city, say things about not caring about material things (including cars), pair up, have children, get a better-paying job, head for the comfort of the suburbs that originally nurtured you, and buy that darned car.

The trend is actually supported by jobs data. According to Bloomberg, "The employment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds held at 76.8 percent in March from the month before, the highest level since November 2008, according to Labor Department data. After lackluster growth throughout most of the recovery, wages are also starting to pick up for millennials."
C’mon, this process has been going on for centuries. The carefree young things of the Roaring 20s were the conservative country clubbers of the 1950s. The Woodstock Generation ended up commuting to Wall Street. The Alps nurtured “Wandervögel” groups very much like hippies in the days leading up to World War II. They “delighted in rediscovering nature without any modern conveniences, traveling on long hikes and sleeping out under the stars,” according to one history. Guitars were part of it too, but we know that something radically different was around the corner.
A group of Wandervögel heading out sometime after World War I. It might be nice to think that millennials are part of some new, finer breed, but I’m guessing not. The longer you look in a mirror, the more likely you are to see your father’s face staring back at you.
One other thing about 18- 29-year-old millennials: They’re the group most likely to get into an accident involving an elderly driver. That’s according to a new report, which also reveals that all of us—regardless of age—dread talking to our senior citizen parents about giving up their keys. Some 40 percent of Americans “would rather discuss funeral arrangements or selling their home.” What, it’s easier to talk about their death than life without a car?

Here's some nuts and bolts about the millennials on video. One thing it points out is their high level of education and accompanying student debt, which might lead them to work harder for things that came easier to boomers--like buying a house and a nice car:

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