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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The EQXX Concept features a crazy driving range.

Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz is putting its century-plus of automotive experience into building electric cars, and the results are impressive. The EQS is an electric flagship with great range, and the automaker has unveiled several concepts to show its future plans. The Vision EQXX concept debuted today as an ultra-efficient luxury EV with astonishing range numbers.

Mercedes-Benz EQXX Concept Mercedes focused on efficiency over power with the car. Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes' focus with the EQXX is efficiency over power, as it says the car is its most efficient it has ever made. The EQXX uses less than 10 kWh per 100 kilometers (around 62 miles), which equates to 620 miles on a single charge. The battery was designed with tech and knowledge from Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team, especially when it comes to size and weight. The EQXX's battery pack is 50 percent smaller by volume and 30 percent lighter than the pack in the EQS, which already featured astonishing efficiency.

The car's impressive range comes at the expense of horsepower, which in this case means just 201 ponies from the EQXX's electric drivetrain. Mercedes says that the system is capable of delivering up to 95 percent energy efficiency - an impressive figure for power delivery to the wheels. Extremely efficient gas powertrains only achieve around 30 percent efficiency and a human long-distance runner can hit around 50 percent.

Mercedes-Benz EQXX Concept The EQXX is impressively slippery, which improves its range.

The EQXX is a slippery car, too, and with a drag coefficient of just 0.17, the car cuts through the air with ease. The typical EV uses up to two-thirds of its battery capacity just to push through the air, so the EQXX's aerodynamics is a big part of its efficiency. The other big part is Mercedes' thermal management system, which uses shutters and cooling plates to maintain an ideal battery and electric drive unit temperature. The plates allow the EQXX to gain about 12 miles of range in its most aerodynamic mode.

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What was your best car-related experience this year?

Chris Teague

This year has been a lot of things, but it hasn't been boring. Even if we focus only on the car world, there's plenty to talk about, from microchip-related new vehicle shortages to the wave of new electric vehicles hitting the market. That leaves us with a question for all of you: What was the best or most memorable car moment for you in 2021? I'll get the conversation started.

Porsche Cayenne GTS My SoCal Cayenne śaw snow for the first time in its nearly 200k-mile life last week.Chris Teague

I'd spent a good portion of 2021 wanting a new-old car to drive when I wasn't testing a new vehicle. That's harder than you'd think for someone who thinks, talks, and writes about cars all day, because there are so many interesting, risky, and downright funky options out there in every price range. The added headache for me was that I'd chosen to shop for a "fun" car in one of the most volatile car markets ever seen. Even the extremely high-mileage "untouchable" European cars I wanted to buy were commanding ridiculous prices.

After a solid few months of waffling between various rattletrap Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi S/RS cars, I landed on an option that had escaped me before: The Porsche Cayenne. First-generation Cayennes are a real bargain now, but the 955/957 (Porsche's internal code for the SUVs) can experience major problems that occur with or without regular maintenance and care. I was determined to buy one, and wasn't overly concerned about mileage, as long as I could count the number of owners on one hand. There was a beautiful 2009 Cayenne GTS with 90,000 miles but nine owners, a gorgeous 2004 Cayenne Turbo with a concerning engine tick, and many more just like them. Finally, I decided to risky-click a 196,000-mile Cayenne GTS in Southern California. It had one owner and one dealer-owner for a month or two prior to sale, its condition looked decent in photos, and I was able to negotiate a reasonable enough price that shipping it from San Diego to Maine wasn't a huge problem.

Porsche Cayenne GTS The pics look great, but hands-on tells another story.Chris Teague

I had two traveling Euro mechanics check the car out, and both confirmed that it was well-worn but mechanically sound, so I jumped. Ten days later, on a snowy, icy, dark Maine afternoon, the Cayenne arrived. Cosmetically, there were a few things the dealer and mechanics failed to mention, but overall, it looked good. The SUV passed Maine safety and emissions testing without problem, got a new set of Michelins, and I was on my way.

Porsche Cayenne GTS I'm in danger, but thankfully this should be a reasonable fix.Chris Teague

A few days of driving revealed what I was really in for. A check engine light revealed a camshaft position sensor error and the Cayenne displayed a nasty vibration at idle. A new sensor and motor mounts, and I'm on my way. I'll update you as more things break or miraculously work, but I want to hear your memories from 2021.

Email me at chris@automotivemap.com, and I will compile the best and most interesting stories for a story on New Year's Day. May you all have a wonderful 2022.

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