Automakers today face a number of challenges. Navigating emerging connected-car technology and trying to ascertain the market for electric vehicles are certainly biggies, but there’s another issue many car-makers are trying to understand: What makes millennials want to buy a car?

Born between roughly 1980 and 1998, millennials (also known as Gen Y) represent a growing segment of the car-buying market. But they don’t seem to behave in the same way as past generations. Studies show this age group tends to value affordability and eco-friendliness, perhaps even more than style and comfort.

A study about Gen Y and automotive by Deloitte found more than half of respondents were willing to pay more for a vehicle that was either environmentally friendly or saves money on energy costs. Additionally, millennials may be less likely to purchase a new car. The survey revealed more than 69% of Gen Y will purchase a used vehicle in the future.

As someone who just squeaked into the first wave of the millennial generation, I think I share some of the generation’s attitudes while also understanding some of the beliefs of the preceding Gen Xers. I definitely share the concept of value trumping all. It takes a lot to get me to part from a dollar, and I have to feel like I’m getting something worthwhile for my money. With a vehicle, that value tends to come from efficiency, reliability, and convenience more than a fancy grille or leather seats.

And, like other millennials, I value connectivity in the car. A Frost & Sullivan survey of European Gen Yers found more than 50% said they would like to have voice/speech control of traffic/weather information, hands-free phone, fuel efficiency information, and MP3 player in the car. We’re the generation that grew up with computers and mobile phones, and we expect that same technology to be integrated into the vehicle.

If I were researching a new car purchase (as a millennial, I would likely do my research online—Deloitte says more than 56% of us prefer to avoid face-to-face interaction with a dealer and work solely over the Internet to purchase a vehicle) I would probably look at three things first: price, safety, and connectivity features. I don’t want to spend more than I have to, but I want a safe, reliable car that will keep me connected with the latest technology.

I think automakers are getting this, and they are putting more effort into cars that meet these needs. The connected systems in cars are useful and becoming more user friendly, allowing for voice control of a variety of functions. I like the idea of features like webinos, an EU-funded project being developed by BMW. The goal is to create an open-source platform for using mobile Web applications across different devices. Your smartphone could seamlessly communicate with an in-vehicle head unit in the car.

The future of the auto will be exciting, and I’m interested to see what 2013 will bring in the connected-car world. The February/March edition of Connected World magazine will include the second annual Connected Car of the Year award winners, all of which are showing what can be done with in-vehicle technology. The millennial generation may want to check it out.

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