When my editor asked me to go to the recently held Jacksonville International Auto Show and write about millennials buying cars, I wasn’t thrilled with the assignment.
Me, a 21-year-old broke female college student who treats her car as a closet and occasionally a place to nap between classes, was not particularly interested in going to a car show where (I assumed) a bunch of rich people would be walking around trying to pick a new car to add to their collection. But I went, for obvious reasons, and I was surprised.
I walked into the Prime Osborn Convention Center on Feb. 19, the last day of the annual event, and immediately noticed that almost everyone in the packed center was under 40. And they were all, ostensibly, looking to buy a car.
Barbara Pudney, longtime promoter of the Jacksonville International Auto Show and vice president of Paragon Group, was not surprised by this turnout.
“I would say probably the majority of people are in the 25-54 age group covering millennials and Gen-Xers,” Pudney said.
She added that some people who go to the auto show are looking to buy cars, but others are just looking to research what they may be interested in owning beyond looking at a car online.
The younger generation’s presence at the show aligns with the national trend. Millennials now account for nearly 30 percent of all new car sales, despite past predictions the generation would be uninterested in owning cars.
A little background: Millennials, born roughly between 1980 and 1997, have been labeled narcissistic, lazy and entitled. They rent instead of own. They care more about the environment than the stock market. They’re afraid of human interaction but crave attention. They want nice things but don’t want to work for them. And they’re obsessed with taking selfies.
While these are often the negative traits that are cited when calling millennials “the end of America’s love affair with the car,” the numbers prove something different. Millennials want to buy cars — if they can afford them.
According to a Kelley Blue Book study, the No. 1 reason 57 percent of millennials are not buying cars is due to cost, which also pushes them toward used cars.
“Affordability is a big thing,” said Nick Blank, 21. While he’s not looking to buy a new car at the moment, he said gas mileage and iPhone connectability would be important to him, but that safety features aren’t a priority. He plans to stick with his current used vehicle until it dies, he said, or he has children.
One of the most important features to millennials is technology — the idea that their car will sync seamlessly with their Apple or Android device is an important, but expensive feature many are looking for in a vehicle.
As cars get more technologically advanced, they also cost more. Average transaction prices have jumped more than 35 percent since 2000, according to estimates by AutoTrader. And according to Edmunds.com, the average car price in 2015 was $18,800.
At this stage in my life — about to graduate college, unsure of where I’ll be in the next few years and unsure if I’ll be able to pay my rent, let alone a car payment — I am not looking to buy a car. I like to think that in the next few years, if everything goes as planned, I’ll have saved enough to put down a good down payment, but that’s as crazy as my car dreams get.
For me and many other millennials, gas mileage is an important factor to consider.
“One of the big things I would care about is whether it gets good mileage,” said 21-year-old Sarah DiLello. “I might be interested in a hybrid electric/gas or something environmentally friendly if it’s in the price range.”
Avery Dayton, 21, also is concerned with gas mileage, but says she would definitely be looking for something used in the next five years, to replace her 17-year-old used car.
“I’m less drawn to new fancy cars and more to something with character,” she said.
Specifically, Pudney has noticed that millennials are interested in the small crossovers, like the Subaru Crosstrek or the Mazda CX-3.
“They’re very versitle,” Pudney said. “You can load them up with stuff, but they look cool. They’re the ones with all the infotainment systems that sync with Apple or Android. Millennials aren’t so much looking for horsepower; they’re looking for the coolest, latest technologies.”
Although millennials are wary of cost, they’re no more so than baby boomers still are. They want technology in their cars, and manufacturers are working to provide it to them. And they want good gas mileage, which even SUVs have these days, as more and more dealers have hybrid models available.
While I’m not looking to buy a car now, it’s something I’ll be doing in the next few years. And when I do, I’ll be joined by a cohort of other millennials looking to do the same.
Cassidy Alexander is an intern with The Florida Times-Union, and a senior at UNF studying journalism and graphic design. While her 1997 Toyota Avalon is still going strong, she was a big fan of the 2017 Honda Civic she saw at the show. She knows that’s kind of a boring pick, but what can she say, she’s a practical kind of girl.