Commentary: Those Darn Millennials Might Be On To Something…

I know I talked about trying not to miss a thing, but I missed a lot due to my prolonged illness and cascade of complications. This just happened to be one of those things I missed…

At the Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring Rally back in May, Nissan sponsored one of the meals for the gathered journalist members and manufacturer representatives. They used their spotlight to announce the results of a survey they conducted regarding the state of the automotive industry and the millennial market. 

Nissan stated that 8 out of 10 millennials would prefer a sedan for their next automobile than anything else. For those of us who grew on sedans, this is astounding news.

This also changes the narrative. We have been seeing the trend towards SUVs than sedans, prompting some manufacturers to roll back offering vehicles that were lower to the ground and equipped with a trunk in the back than a lifted family conveyance that achieves less fuel efficiency on average. In other words, sedans are far from dead because the next generation would want one.

We talk about trends. We talk about how these ebbs and flows of design and consumer demand continues to dictate product development. Yet, the struggle to meet the demands of generational consumers is not a cost-effective one. It is no longer the case of building a car and hope people will buy one because of the name and reputation.

This development of consumer preference among millennials is refreshing. At first, studies show that they were about to reject the automobile altogether. That result came from young people in urban settings, which represented another trend we also fell for. The truth is that suburban and rural youth still want automobiles because of various reasons, including the lack of public conveyances available when they are needed.

Over the past few years, app-based riding-haling services have increased in suburban areas. The need for drivers working these areas also mean acquiring automobiles to do this work. Plus, there is no way you’re going to take the automobile away from exurban and rural folks.

Now, this survey about sedan preference affirms that a few manufacturers have made a grave mistake. There is no need to name those have made that mistake, but one would wonder if a millennial would go to their showrooms and find that there nothing for them to buy. This creates an opportunity for a manufacturer that still offers a full range of sedans to secure that demographic and create a relationship towards brand/OEM loyalty.

I know that using the word "loyalty" in relationship to millennials is a far-fetched idea. It could happen. I have faith that it might.

Perhaps millennials who are preferring sedans are seeing something we’re not. Or, will have completely different ideas of what their lives are going to be like once they get into their 40s with their careers in full flight. That is one problem about demographics: The absence of taking under consideration individual trends and paths only to concentrate on mass movements of humanity.

Generational demographics also do not take in consideration cultural differences among individuals within the mass group. You can break that down further into subgroups based on gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, ability, and so forth. The idea that there is a throughline that denotes a "trend" could be valid only if you acknowledge the variables based on subgroups within the greater demographic that validate the data presented.

I spell these challenges out not because I'm questioning every generational survey out there. Maybe, I was trying to find validation of Nissan's findings that validate their product strategy in offering a full line of sedans to their customers. Rather, to validate a way to chastise those manufacturers who have ended production of their sedans for the sake of selling more SUVs instead.

Granted, some sales figures provided evidence of some manufacturer’s strategies regarding trading sedans for SUVs. In one company during 2018, their USA sales figures showed that per one sedan/hatchback/wagon unit lost, they got that unit back with the sale of an SUV. It was a tradeoff that continues to trend at some manufacturers.

However, Nissan's survey has a point. Sedans are designed for a level of practicality that could be seen as limited to some but offer plenty of advantages over similarly priced SUVs. Better fuel economy, for starters. Easier access to controls, as another. A lower center of gravity, which helps in terms of maneuverability and handling overall. And, I’m just scratching the surface here.

To erase the sedan from history is a form of revisionism will hurt the consumer in terms of choice. If Nissan is correct, they should have a steady stream of customers for their new Versa sedan, along with the Altima and Maxima. Nissan also has the position where they do have a lineup of SUVs for customers to choose between them and a comparable sedan. This is a luxury that a majority of manufacturers have right now.

Is Nissan correct with the result of their survey towards Millennials preferring sedans over SUVs? Or, do you think this a bunch of hot air? I don’t know about you, but I rather see a full lineup of both sedans and SUVs. After all, customers will choose either way.

Photo by Randy Stern

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