Shock and auto: Gen Z is all about buying cars

NEW YORK — Is Gen Z the automotive generation? A new poll is revealing just how serious the nation’s newest drivers are about their vehicles.

In a poll of 4,000 U.S. adults split evenly by generation, 76 percent of Gen Z reported purchasing their first vehicle before they were 21 — a stark contrast to 56 percent of millennials who purchased a car at the same age. When starting their car shopping process, 54 percent of Gen Zers said price plays the biggest factor in their decisions. Other major considerations include fuel efficiency (42%), longevity and reliability (36%), safety rating (29%), and comfort (28%).

Two-thirds of those in Gen Z said they feel more confident in understanding how cars are priced versus older generations (53% of Gen X and 37% of baby boomers). 

Commissioned by Cars.com, the study also found 62 percent bought their current vehicle from a dealership or pre-ordered their vehicle from a dealer. Overall, four in five agreed it’s important to touch, feel and test drive a car before buying it. 

Four in five Gen Zers also said they prefer purchasing their vehicles in person, as opposed to shopping online (9%), in contrast to the tech-focused millennials (16%). 

“What we’re especially keen on is how Gen Z is going to shape the vehicle purchasing landscape,” says Jenni Newman, the editor-in-chief for Cars.com, in a statement. “What’s most interesting is how Gen Z is bucking the trend set forth by millennials when it comes to car shopping. Though arguably the most tech-savvy generation.”

“We’re seeing this younger generation care more about talking to people in person when it comes to buying a big purchase like a car — valuing the role local car dealerships have in that last mile of car buying — and taking more time to research what they want before making a major decision.”

Car Dealer Handing Over the Carkeys
Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Conducted by OnePoll, the results show Gen Z is also taking more time when shopping before they pull the trigger — 64 percent take up to four weeks to do research on vehicles before buying. Interestingly, 55 percent of Gen Z have purchased a used car compared to 55 percent of millennials who purchased new.

To make things easier for themselves, respondents said they prefer using car shopping tools that give them history reports (52%), total cost transparency (47%), and vehicle price history (44%). 

Research showed a number of financial differences between Gen Z and other generations when car shopping, as well. Over half (57%) of Gen Z is comfortable with car payments as high as $400, similar to 60 percent of Gen Xers, although millennials (48%) were the least comfortable with these prices. 

While confident in the amount they can spend, Gen Z admitted fears about not getting a fair price (22%) and the financing process and getting approved (16%) as some of their biggest pain points during the car buying process. 

Most Gen Zers will shop for vehicles by first consulting friends and family members (60%) then car dealer websites and salespeople (55%). This differs from their Millennial counterparts who first seek out car dealer websites and salespeople (63%) and friends and family second (51%), however the third rank is where all age groups (36%) align: the value of online auto expert review articles, websites, or apps. 

Testing a vehicle’s capabilities was found to often come in the form of an initial test drive (78%), having a more-knowledgeable friend or family member take a look at it (56%) or taking a look under the hood themselves (42%).

Over half (54%) of Gen Zers would consider buying an electric vehicle (EV) in the future, different from their Gen X parents (41%), due to long-term financial benefits (52%). Additional factors cited include their environmental impact (54%) and not needing to pay for gas (52%).

“For years, we joked about younger generations seemingly prioritizing their personal satisfaction over practicality,” adds Newman. “Now, we’re seeing a blend of both — Gen Z wants to afford a vehicle that’s not going to leave them feeling desperate with their budget but is willing to do the work to make sure it fits their lifestyle.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 1,000 Gen Z American car owners and drivers was commissioned by Cars.com between August 30 and September 7, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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