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Automobile and Millennials: How Teenagers are Shifting Gears on Daily Conversations About Cars

Published by Engagement Labs February 01, 2016

The age of 16 has always been considered a huge milestone - a rite of passage, one might say. You nervously step into the DMV, shade in those multiple choice bubbles and keep your fingers crossed. If you knew your stuff, you’d be getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time, inching ever so closely to the freedom you’ve been craving.

But what was once longed for by generations past has become increasingly less desirable by recent generations. New research conducted by Keller Fay Group, an Engagement Labs company, discovered millennial teenagers are talking less and less about cars today, especially among the first batch of teenagers born at the beginning of the 21st century who are turning 16 this year.

So rev-up your engines and take a look below to see what the data has to say about this dramatic shift in conversation and potential loss of interest among American teens:

Teenagers are Leaving Automobiles in the Dust

In comparison to older generations, how much are teenagers talking about automobiles on a daily basis?

Enagagement Labs | WOM conversations about automotive industrySource: Keller Fay’s TalkTrack® rankings of increase in consumer WOM conversation among the automotive industry (Jan-Dec 2009; Jan-Dec 2015)

  • In the last six years, there’s been a whopping 27% decrease in the number of teenagers 13-17, talking about automobiles on a daily basis
  • Older demographics increased their daily conversations about automobiles, with 50-59 year olds staying stagnant

So, why aren’t teenagers talking about automobiles anymore? Potential reasons could be:

  • Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are becoming more prevalent
  • Social media makes the need for meeting in person less necessary
  • Prices have surged and the job market is tough making it very difficult for younger generations to own or finance an automobile

Beep, Beep - Move Out the Way for Other Industries

If teenagers now aren’t talking about cars as much as they were six years ago, what is piquing their interest?

Engagement Labs | teenagers word of mouth conversations about carsSource: Keller Fay’s TalkTrack® consumer WOM data (Jan-Dec 2009; Jan-Dec 2015)

According to Keller Fay’s data, what’s all the rage for present-day teenagers are:

  • Media & Entertainment
  • Technology
  • Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) & Casual Dining

So if you thought this might be a phase, think twice, as it looks like there’s a dramatic rise in other conversation topics - specifically the QSR and casual dining industry with a dramatic 53% increase in daily conversation over the last six years.

Time to Turn Off the Ignition?

With teenagers more interested in discussing the latest smartphone, the most distracting app or the latest food trends, should the automotive industry throw in the towel?

Not just yet! While the overall conversation about automobiles may be down amongst the younger generation, don’t entirely count out the industry as a whole.

The following chart demonstrates the increase or decrease of automobile conversations among 13-17 year olds by automotive brand:

Engagement Labs | automobile conversations among 13-17 year oldsSource: Keller Fay’s TalkTrack® consumer WOM data (Jan-Dec 2009; Jan-Dec 2015)

  • Subaru, Audi and Hyundai experienced significant increases, up to 89%, in their daily conversation amongst teenagers 13-17 over the last six years
  • All other automobile brands, experienced declines in daily conversation amongst teenagers, ranging from -16% to -42%, with brands like Ford seeing the most significant decrease

Brands apparently impact millennial teenagers' conversations as we see differences in which automobiles have them chatting. This is supported further when looking at the below figure showcasing which geographic location’s automotive brands have experienced the most decrease/increase in daily conversations amongst teenagers 13-17:

Engagement Labs | Teenagers' conversations on social media about automobiles
Source: Keller Fay’s TalkTrack® consumer WOM data (Jan-Dec 2009; Jan-Dec 2015)

  • Keller Fay data shows that domestic car brands aren’t very favorable amongst the younger millennial demographic, with American brands seeing the biggest decline in daily conversation
  • On the other side European and Asian brands are doing marginally better than American brands, with less significant decreases in conversations amongst teenagers

The Final Drive

Despite its symbolism for teenage freedom, the automobile just isn’t cutting it anymore for the younger generations. They’re focusing their energy on other topics and that could be a scary thought for the automotive industry. Is it just a phase? Can we turn these Gen-Y members into automobile owners as they age and their lifestyles change?

Automotive brands need to really delve more into millennial conversations and see what they can do to turn this declining conversation around. As this generation gets older, starts making more money and enters new phases in their lives, their attention to the automobiles may shift positively. Focusing marketing efforts on millennials, these brands can hopefully convince this social generation to eventually drive off into the sunset with their own brand new automobile.

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About eValue™:

The eValue™ score measures the effectiveness of a brand’s overall social media performance on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram and provides a score from 0 - 100. It’s the aggregate of the three subscores including Engagement, Impact, and Responsiveness that work together to create one top-level KPI. Our subscores are calculated by using hundreds of submetrics which are then benchmarked against a hand-picked database of 100,000 verified brand accounts on each channel.

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