The Car Buying Habits of Gen Z Drivers

Generation Z is loosely defined as the people who were born during the mid-1990s. Given that their childhood coincided with the tech boom, they have a different relationship with material items than the generations before them. They were raised with the internet, cell phones, social media, flat screen TVs, and various other advanced technologies that were unheard of just a few years before they were born. And now that Gen Z has reached early adulthood, we are able to see how that background influences their lifestyle decisions and their purchases.

Automakers, like all businesses, are constantly altering their products to help fit the wants and needs of the masses. As many Gen Z people are either in the market for a car now or will be soon, auto manufacturers are getting their first glimpse at what this generation values in the automotive world. And, just as with most material products, it turns out that Gen Z has car preferences and buying habits that are a bit different than the generations that came before them. Thanks to a study by Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, we’re able to get a good look at what appeals to Gen Z when they go car shopping.

They love their freedom any way they can get it

With smart phones, email, and Facebook being staples in most young people’s lives, it’s not surprising that Gen Z values whatever freedom they can get. When Gen Z drivers were polled on what emotion driving made them feel, “free” was the most common answer. “Responsible” was the second most common answer, which goes in hand with freedom. It makes sense that a group of people who want more freedom as they move away from home for the first time would also like their own responsibilities. That said, Gen Z isn’t only about being free and responsible; “excited” was the third most common response. They enjoy driving, and they find responsibility and freedom exciting.

In addition to feeling free while driving, Gen Z also lists freedom right next to “makes life easier” when talking about why they want their own cars. It’s clear that Gen Z not only likes having their freedom, but that they prioritize it when considering their transportation options.

The most important conclusion for automakers in relation to Gen Z’s desire for freedom is this: Gen Z is extremely attached to the idea of auto ownership. Despite the increasing popularity of ride-share businesses such as Uber and Lyft, the overwhelming majority of Gen Z drivers show a strong preference to owning, not sharing. While millennials have been leaning toward ways of not having to own their own cars, Gen Z is emphatically finding ways to justify having vehicles. In addition to preferring having a car over ride-sharing, Gen Z prefers buying cars to leasing them.

They value practicality

There’s a stereotype with Gen Z that they are a little reckless, unsafe, materialistic, and impractical. With regards to automobile preferences, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In general, Gen Z cares much more about getting a good deal than they do about having a popular or cool car. In fact, the social status aspects of vehicles – the brand name, the style, and the popularity – are much more important to millennials than they are to Gen Z.

Safety is the most important aspect – by far – of an automobile to Gen Z. Compared to other generations, a notably large percentage of Gen Z prioritizes safety above all else.

While some people might watch music videos and TV shows and think that Gen Z’s favorite cars are Bentleys and Ferraris, the reality is much more practical. When asked to list their favorite car companies, Gen Z’s top three choices were very sensible: Chevrolet, Ford, and Honda, which they described as practical, trusted, and traditional.

Gen Z also prefers environmentally friendly vehicles more than other generations do, though it’s still not a very high priority (safety is significantly more important). For the most part, Gen Z is interested in environmentally friendly vehicles not for the environmental implications, but because they require less gas, and therefore save money.

Having a car is important, but so is the process of buying one

It seems logical to assume that a generation raised on websites and phone apps would be excited about making car buying the quickest and easiest process possible, but it’s actually the opposite. Gen Z enjoys buying things, and not just so they can have them; they like the entire process of shopping. Gen Z doesn’t want to purchase cars online or on their smart phones. They prefer going to a dealership, having a face-to-face interaction with a car salesperson where they can ask questions, and test driving multiple different vehicles. Finding the right car is important, but the process of finding the right car is also important to Gen Z.

Automakers are happy to know that owning a car is near the very top of the Gen Z priority list. Despite their affinity for entertainment and technology, the majority of Gen Z would give up social media, eating out, or entertainment events for a year if it allowed them to own a car.

They’re looking for the best technology

While practicality and safety are the most important features in a car for Gen Z drivers, they’re still heavily concerned with technology. Gen Z lists infotainment systems as the aspect of a vehicle that they value most after safety, as they find things like good navigation systems, quality sound systems, and technologically proficient interfaces very desirable.

It’s understandable then, that Gen Z finds self-driving vehicles more appealing than other generations do, though the jury is still out (Gen Z is virtually split between people who like autonomous vehicles and people who don’t). Not surprisingly, it’s the issue of safety that is influencing opinions behind self-driving cars. The majority of Gen Z that is in favor of such vehicles believes that they will be safer than human-operated cars. The majority of Gen Z that is against such cars fears that they will be less safe (and that the technology is not feasible). And while Gen Z is split on whether autonomous vehicles are a good thing or not, a strong majority enjoys autonomous aspects in current vehicles, especially as they pertain to safety.

It’s in the best interest of automakers to cater to the desires of Gen Z, since they place such significance on cars. This is especially pertinent given that Gen Z is so interested in purchasing vehicles, and that they’ll be buying many in their future given their young age. And if you’re a member of Gen Z and are interested in buying a car, it’s worth having a pre-purchase inspection from a reputable technician, such as the ones at YourMechanic, to make sure that the car you purchase will fit all of your needs and priorities.


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