Introducing Generation App: New generation subsets dictate new car shopping behaviors

Three new generational subsets define how the youngest Americans shop for cars.

Photo by Getty Images

Typically, the buying public is divided into six generational segments: Greatest Generation, Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials, and Gen-Y. But there's actually more? The development of technology has subdivided the generations according to Rebecca Lindland, automotive industry analyst and founder, She studied the buying habits, industry trends, and personality traits of buyers.

Technology has evolved quickly as the country's youngest generations have matured. That has dictated that there are new generational subsets and it has greatly influenced how they shop for cars.

Trophy Generation

Businesswoman holding trophy over office cubicleThe Trophy Generation was born between 1978 and 1988.Photo by Getty Images

Those born between 1978 and 1988 are the Trophy Generation. They consist of folks usually grouped in Gen-X and Millennial categories. Think of them as a prime example of Oprah's "you get a car" GIF. While they're tech savvy, they're also self-centered and need affirmation of their worth, embrace diversity, and are environmentally conscious.

These buyers entered the new car market starting in 1994 and were all in by 2004. They're not projected to completely leave the market until 2068. Their buying behavior equates their vehicle with their social status in life.

The brands they buy are largely aspirational and they look for high-tech features and aggressive design in a new vehicle. The Trophy Generation is more open to buying a new brand. They see the dealership experience as a key factor in determining loyalty. Their favorite brands are Land Rover, Audi, and Tesla.

Online Generation

Young woman sitting on the couch with cup of coffee using laptopThe Online Generation will be buying cars from now until 2079.Photo by Getty Images

The Online Generation was born between 1989 and 1999. Their childhoods were defined by the Great Recession as much as the implementation of tech. They grew up in affluence but saw much of that halted when their parents had to slim down their expenditures.

These buyers entered the new car market starting in 2005 and were all in by 2015. They're not projected to completely leave the market until 2079.

These adults have their most precious possessions in the cloud. They're confident yet cautious and willing to put off buying a car so that they can have a life experience. Their favorite brands are, in Lindland's words, "Telsa, Tesla, and Tesla."

This is the type of buyers that Cadillac is targeting with there Cadillac Live showroom experience.

Generation App

11-year-old girl using her mobile phone while lying on sofa with her dogsGeneration App's buying habits are still being developed.Photo by Getty Images

Generation App starts in 1999. The parents of Generation App buyers are mostly part of the Trophy Generation though some are the children of Boomers (hello, second and third marriages). Boomers treat these children like they are their friends while Gen-X parents are more traditional. The Trophy Generation is more free spirited and are described by Lindland as free range parents who include their children in their major life decisions.

The children and young adults Generation App have their entire lives in apps. They do their school work, manage their schedule, and conduct their social life entirely with the help of apps. They don't know life before smart phones (let alone cell phones), 9-1-1, the internet, social media, or Tesla. They're so young, they consider Steve Jobs to be a historical figure.

Though their automotive buying habits are just developing, having a diverse group of parents and living in a post-Great Recession world will inevitably impact their habits, according to Lindland. Their brand perceptions vary greatly. They don't remember the heyday of the Big Three.

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The 2021 Lamborghini Sián Roadster is a smile maker.

Photo courtesy of Automobili Lamborghini

If you're not rich enough to have an automaker completely craft you a one-off from scratch, the next best thing is to take full advantage of the company's vehicle customization options. There's usually a special devision that takes care of this. At Aston Martin, it's Q. Bentley has Mulliner and Porsche offers up their Manufaktur department.

Lambroghini's Ad Personam customization program offers five key areas where customers can make the vehicle they order unique. Specialists assist customers at every step of the process, taking into consideration their demands as craftspeople create the vehicle that's ordered.

The choice of 348 unique colors.

Lamborghini Ad Personam paint colors

Lamborghinis are offered in a wide variety of colors.

Photo courtesy of Lamborghini Automobili

Though not every color is available in every region of the world, there are 348 total options offered to customers. Americans tend to be the most demanding, requesting 20 percent of the custom colors that Ad Personam offers up, followed by customers in Asia Pacifica and EMEA region.

Take the car to the next level with diamond dust paint.

All that glitters isn't always gold. Sometimes it's diamonds. Ad Personam offers Lamborghinis with a new transparent paint that includes micro crystals in the form of diamond dust. This dust undergoes a unique processing technique and is applied to the bodywork of the supercar, giving it an iridescent sheen that changes color according to reflections of the light at that moment.

Add a unique work of art.

Lamborghini's talented upholstery department has seen it all. In addition to the typical orders, they're able to take special requests for unique decorations and embroidery, from the seat logo, hand-stitched rather than hot-embossed, to the initials embroidered inside the passenger compartment.

Some of the most creative options requested by buyers include creating branches and peach blossoms, portraits of the customer or their beloved pet, designs in street art style with the bull, and "splash-effect" color (like in the Aventador S by Skyler Grey), to images of the skyline of their favorite city.

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The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a desirable car for enthusiasts of all ages.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

In 2020, Americans were given a lot of time to sit at home and distract themselves by surfing the web. Often, they found themselves daydreaming about owning a classic or collector car.

Hagerty has released some interesting results of a survey of the company's web traffic during that period, detailing which vehicles had their quotes searched for the most and what age groups were doing the searching. Scroll down to see the results.

2000-2006 BMW M3 (E46)

BMW E46 Convertible

The E46 generation BMW M3 was available as a coupe or a cabriolet.

Photo courtesy of BMW

Gen-Xers and Millennials are looking hard at the BMW M3s of the early 2000s. Seventy-eight percent of the quotes Hagerty received were from that age group.

The E46 edition of the car was produced as a coupe and a convertible, getting its power from the last of the S54 straight-six engines BMW produced. The automaker sold the model in a variety of special editions but the CSL was never brought to market in North America.

1997-2004 Porsche Boxster

Boxster (986), 1996

Porsche introduced the Boxster in 1996.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

The Porsche Boxster celebrated a big birthday this year, but last year it was the first-generation model that was on the minds of browsers. Boomers represented 51 percent of the quotes for the Boxster followed by 33 percent by Gen-X.

The mid-engine Boxster was Porsche's first road vehicle to be originally designed as a roadster since the 914, which was in production from 1969 to 1976. A couple different engine choices were available for the first-gen Boxster when it was new and the model underwent a mid-generation update for the 2002 model year.

1984-1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

1989 Jeep Wagoneer

This 1989 Jeep Wagoneer sold for over $100k at Barrett-Jackson.

Photo courtesy of Barrett-Jackson

The Jeep Grand Wagoneer's popularity is picking up just as Jeep announced that they're bringing the SUV back. The new Grand Wagoneer is expected later this year.

Hagerty reported that 65 percent of all quotes for the vintage version of the SUV were from Gen-X and Millennial buyers - the target market for the new one as well.

1993-2002 Pontiac Firebird

Pontiac Firebird

The Pontiac Firebird was discontinued just before the Great Recession hit causing the brand to fold.

Photo by Ken Morris/

The final generation of the Pontiac Firebird is still turning heads, nearly 20 years after it left the market. During the pandemic, 63 percent of the quotes that were searched for are from Gen-X and Millennials

1990-1998 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The third-generation Mazda Miata went out of production six years ago.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Gen-X and Millennials represented 56 percent of all quotes for the second- and third-generation Mazda Miata. The second-gen MX-5 debuted in 1997 and was put on sale for the 1999 model year. This was the generation that got rid of the pop-up headlights.

The third-gen Miata was in production from 2005 to 2015. Design-wise, the car stayed pretty true to its roots but there was one notable innovation. This generation was the first to have a retractable hardtop variant.

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