Millennials are changing how cars are marketed

1951 Buick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carmakers are offering plenty of data and more luxury to snag young buyers

In the past, General Motors (GM) rarely advertised its Buick brand, a car long considered “Cadillac-lite” and most likely to be driven by someone in their 60s. It was affordable luxury, sandwiched between Cadillac and the now defunct Oldsmobile.

But in case you haven't noticed, GM has flooded the airwaves in recent months with commercials for its line of redesigned Buick cars. And these ads are not aimed at seniors – they're aimed at Millennials.

Why? Because marketers have figured out that Millennials aren't content to wait until they've “made it” before they treat themselves to some luxury. They want it now, and if carmakers can deliver a luxury model at an entry level price, they're likely to buy it.

Entry level luxury

The Buick Enclave starts at around $39,000 but the Buick Encore, the model getting the heaviest promotion, starts at just $24,000. The ad campaign is built around the idea that most consumers can't recognize a Buick now because they're so, well, cool.

Buick isn't the only luxury name going after Millennial dollars.

"Lower-price-point vehicles such as the Mercedes CLA, BMW 1-series and Audi A3 are making luxury cars more attainable for Millennials earlier in life, which could help these brands establish long-term consideration and loyalty," said Rick Wainschel, a vice-president at

The thought being that once someone in their late 20s starts driving a BMW, they're likely to stick with the brand – in a more expensive model – as they become more prosperous in their 30s and 40s.

Teaching their parents

And while younger generations have usually turned to their parents for advice when it comes to their first car, a study from suggests Millennials by and large believe they could teach their parents a thing or 2 about car-buying. This generation considers itself to be more tech-savvy and better educated than their parents about the car shopping process.

In fact, 73% of Millennials said they are savvier car buyers than their parents and more than half said they freely advise family and friends on what cars they should buy. And because this generation tends to do its homework, Edmunds CEO Avi Steinlauf says the older generation would do well to listen.

"Millennials today are informed car buyers," Steinlauf said. “They're making the most out of the volume of information available at their fingertips, and it's helping them to make a smarter car purchase. And since a smart car buyer is a quality car buyer, it all points to an optimistic and healthy future for the auto industry."

Used cars are popular

Though carmakers are making a concerted effort to sell Millennials on an entry level luxury car, plenty of young consumers are opting for a used car instead. In fact, a slightly higher percentage of Millennials bought a used car last year than did adults over age 35, according to the Edmunds research.

An earlier study by AutoTrader found that Millennials are image-conscious and aspirational in their preferences but that, as they age, they're likely to become more practical in their automotive tastes.

And while they may be strongly tempted by the BMW or Audi nameplate, Millennials are also more open to buying a car from less well-known brands than other car shoppers. The study found that young shoppers are more likely to consider buying a Kia or Mazda because of the popularity of import brands throughout their lives.

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