Car Culture

Millennials don't hate Boomer car culture, they just want to do it their way

Passionate car culture is here, it just loos different than it has in the past.

Photo by Getty Imgaes

Discord between generations is nothing new. In the '60s and '70s, peaced-out hippies were busy sticking it to The Man; these days, woke Millennials are thumbing 'OK Boomer' replies to, well, those same hippies who ditched the tie dye and musicals for a dyed tie and cubicles. The cycle will continue until either the fountain of youth is invented or a rogue comet destroys us all.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about Millennials and the car industry, most of reading as more dour than a Michigan winter. If one listened solely to the claptrap, they'd believe everyone under the age of 40 wants to burn their cars. While some so-called futurists are eager to predict the end of the personal automobile, what we saw at this year's auctions in the Arizona desert proved that excitement about automobiles is alive and well with the young'uns ... it simply takes a different form, that's all.

vintage historic classic car The classic nameplates of the past don't hold as much stock with the younger set, who are willing to highlight brands that they grew up revering, like Infiniti and Toyota. Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's not like new cars are nailed to showroom floors. According to the information dorks at Statista, the number of new car registrations in America has never been higher, climbing each year since 1990 save for a dip around the Great Recession. About 17 million new cars have been sold per year for the last five years. As per research group AdColony, 60% of car shoppers have yet to experience Freedom 55 and, more specifically, consumers between 35-54 prefer to buy an SUV (48%) over consumers between 18-34 (37%).

Why? Personal expression, perhaps. Those who are interested in splashing out money on new wheels may be more likely to select something that isn't like every other machine on the road. As well, buying a home and raising a family is also more expensive than ever, so a cheaper option usually manifests itself in something that doesn't take the form of an SUV. A recent study cited by Forbes found that the top three car models most owned by Millennials are Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Honda Civic.

New cars are one thing. But, as anyone who lives within a country mile of an ardent gearhead will tell you, driving and owning a ride from days past is the mark of someone who is truly passionate about cars. In this group, the zealous automotive fires burn white hot.

Ryan ZumMallen, reviews editor at Edmunds and author of the car culture book "Slow Car Fast", rightly pointed out that a good chunk of Millennials aren't kids anymore. "They're grown adults who are ready to leverage their spending power on items that were influencing them in the '80s and '90s." He referenced the Youngtimer's collection at auction house RM Sotheby's, a collection of European and Japanese automobiles from that ear which brought big bucks last year. Those types of cars, ZumMallen explained, would have been shunned at such events just a few short years ago. Now, these auction houses are going through great lengths to attract younger buyers for such machines.

One can also make the case that Millennial auto enthusiasts are not singularly focused on one particular trend or type of vehicle. Their diversity, both in terms of demographic and car choice, is a strength largely unharnessed by previous generations of gearheads. It is this author's opinion that this is juicing values of a variety of collector vehicles - vintage Broncos capable of spinning up dirt in quantities to satisfy the hygiene needs of six Persian cats and Japanese sports cars with retina-detaching performance are but a brace of examples - but perhaps not into the stratosphere the market once saw with the likes of zillion dollar Hemi 'Cudas.

video car YouTube Millennials are transforming the way most of the world thinks about cars using a variety of platforms aside form the traditional car show, like YouTube. Photo by Getty Images/Westend61

A tremendous real-world example? While attending this year's Barrett-Jackson soirée in Scottsdale, we witnessed BMW Lightweights hammering away for prices deep into six-figure territory. These cars, from a collection that belonged to Paul Walker, undoubtedly drew some of their fiduciary strength from an association with a famous car-adjacent actor and his proximity to a certain movie franchise. However, there's an argument to be made that something else - something Millennial - is afoot here as well.

The democratization of speed has reached a zenith in the last couple of years. One can walk into a new car showrooms of several different brands and drive away in a machine with over 700 horsepower. Hellcats, GT500s, and even the scattered Jeep (Jeep!) have placed sky-high levels of grunt into the disgustingly sweaty palms of anyone who can keep up a repayment schedule. Even a V6-equipped Toyota Camry can run to 60 mph from rest in less than six seconds and will, in fact smoke the on-a-retro-pedestal Integra Type R by about two seconds in the quarter mile.

But no one will argue that a Camry provides any semblance of joyful motoring. That's yet another insight into why cars like the E30 3-Series and '90s-era Toyotas and Mazdas are enjoying a renewed fetishization - their ability to provide an exaggerated and less sanitized sense of speed, even though the car itself may be ultimately slower. It also doesn't hurt that, as adults, Millennials have the scratch to spend on cars they simply desired as teenagers. Whether they developed that aspiration through playing Forza on Xbox or watching bracket racing at the local track matters not one whit. We're witnessing one of the greatest shifts in buying power and era of influence the car game has ever seen - and yours truly is glad to be along for the ride.

Discord between the generations? That'll be a reality as long as there are people of different ages on this planet. People with disposable income buying what they like? That, more than ever, seems to be the tie that binds.

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NXP Semiconductors has two chip plants in Texas that were effected by Winter Storm Uri.

Photo courtesy of NXP Semiconductors N.V.

The effects of Winter Storm Uri are still being felt across Texas and it's impacting the auto industry. Reporting by Reuters tells that chipmakers, like Samsung Electronics, are still weeks away from resuming normal operations in Texas.

Traditionally, this sort of production slowdown wouldn't much impact the industry. There would typically be enough dealership and inventory and automaker back stock to make up for many, if not all of the shortages for a short period of time. However, COVID-19 has put a strain on the chipmaking industry and is already slowing production, limiting sales, and hurting automaker bottom lines.

There's also been increased demand for semiconductor chips as sales of laptops, gaming consoles, and other entertainment and exercise equipment soared as coronavirus-related lockdowns changed lifestyles globally.

Ford and General Motors have both said that their 2021 sales and profits will be hit hard by the shortage. Additional analysis by Reuters says that Toyota has enough inventory to last four months while Hyundai and Kia, which share common ownership, purchased a stockpile of chips when production was going full steam in late December and are thus far unaffected.

Samsung and NXP Semiconductors shut their factories in Texas last month when Winter Storm Uri took hold. Like Lone Star State households, Texas businesses lost access to electricity, natural gas, and water.

Samsung's logic chip plant is located in Austin. It began operating 2017 and makes chips using Samsung's 14-nanometer, 28-nm and 32-nm chip production technologies. The facility is Samsung's biggest logic chip production facility outside of South Korea, where the company is headquartered. The company also has a NAND flash chip facility in Austin.

NXP's plants are also in Austin where the company has its corporate headquarters. While there are nine other NXP offices in the U.S., there are no other manufacturing sites.

Edward Latson, CEO of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, told Reuters that chipmakers now have the power, water and gas they need to operate, but they need time to restart tools and clean the factories. He characterized the process as being slow and "very expensive".

The one month of lost production is most likely to hit automakers hardest five months down the road, in the third quarter.

Many analysts had been predicting an uptick in new vehicle sales for 2021 after car sales rallied in the fourth quarter of 2020. However, these chip shortages are deeply impacting those sales predictions.

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There are more than 18,000 car dealerships in the U.S.

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Last year was a trying year of change at automotive dealerships nationwide. As COVID-19 shut down normal business operations, automakers and their dealerships were forced to quickly pivot to a new way of doing business - remote test drives, online shopping, and contactless service became the norm.

The list of 2021 Edmunds Five Star Dealers has been released, showcasing those auto dealers across the U.S. that were able to make the changes, roll with ever-changing regulations, and keep their customers happy.

To be a Five Star Dealer, a dealership must receive at least 30 reviews via Edmunds.com that average 4.5 stars or higher between January 1 and December 31, 2020. Five Star Premier Dealers earn their ratings by having 4.5 stars of higher for all 2020 sales reviews (minimum of 150).

Edmunds says that less than three percent of their dealer partners reach Five Star Status. This year, 109 dealerships earned that rank. Just 13 reached Premier status.

Nine Texas dealers were named Five Star Dealers. None earned the coveted Premier label. Of those nine, four are General Motors dealers and two sell Toyotas. Most are located in or near one of Texas's major metro areas, though there are a few outliers.

Here are the winners:

  • Baytown GMC Buick (Baytown)
  • Clark Knapp Honda (Pharr)
  • James Wood Chevrolet Buick GMC Decatur (Decatur)
  • Jeff Haas Mazda (Houston)
  • Moritz Kia Alliance (Fort Worth)
  • Nyle Maxwell GMC (Round Rock)
  • Pat Lobb's Toyota of McKinney (McKinney)
  • Tom Peacock Cadillac (Houston)
  • Vandergriff Toyota (Arlington)
In order to hold onto their status in 2022, those dealerships will need to meet the same criteria as they did for 2021.

Reputation.com recently monitored the online chit chat surrounding dealerships in the county. They ranked the Top 100 and by their calculations, five Texas dealerships made the list. No dealer made both the Reputation.com list and the Edmunds list.

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