Stephen Beatty, Managing Director of Toyota Canada, agrees. “There was a time when your car was your social network; now of course you carry around your social network in your smart phone.”
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“If you think about technologies such as texting, Facebook, Skype, Pinterest, they’re all ways of hanging out with others even though you might be in three different cities — so we don’t need the wheels to transport us,” says Connelly. “Because those technologies transcend time and space, I can feel like I’m with my friends, so I don’t have to be with them physically.”
Concerned that the next generation of car buyers might be considering going car-less, automakers are rushing to integrate connectivity into their new cars. “It’s important for the connected generation that driving a car doesn’t mean you have to sever the connection,” says Toyota Canada’s Beatty. “In our latest vehicles we offer text-to-speech, full integration of e-mail and text in the car. In the United States, that includes connected services such as Facebook. Our navigation systems allow you to locate your friends using the cell phone network.”
Ford’s Connelly cites Ford’s SYNC technology that permits hands-free operation of Bluetooth-enabled devices with voice-activated phone calls, text messages and audio selection. As well, Ford’s MyFord Touch uses touchscreen technology with an interface similar to tablets and smart phones.
While many of these features first appeared in luxury cars, they are now being offered in even the most basic economy cars, which are more affordable for younger buyers.
But not all vehicle manufacturers are worried that young buyers can’t get excited about buying a new car for all of its other benefits.
John White, President of Volkswagen Group Canada, says his company’s cars have more appeal for young drivers, particularly cars like the Golf and GTI. “Volkswagens do attract a younger buyer, says VW Canada John White. “It’s more of an emotional purchase, a brand position we’ve established over decades.”
Toyota’s Scion brand was created specifically to attract younger buyers. “With Scion, we are trying to create aspiration by building the car around the lifestyle, or more importantly, building a lifestyle around your car. Scion’s are all about personal expression, customization. That’s why they’re strongly aligned with music, fashion, arts, and the whole customizing aspect of owning a car,” says Beatty.
Tim Reuss, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada, is also bullish on young buyers. “The new A-Class that we unveiled in Geneva recently, which we will be getting here in 2014, generated a buzz like you wouldn’t believe, especially with those younger customers.” Mercedes’ Smart ForTwo is also designed as a stylish city car for urban buyers and will soon include a new Electric Drive model.
Car sharing is another way that automakers are attracting young, urban drivers. Mercedes-Benz ‘Car To Go’ car-sharing program rents Smart ForTwos by the minute to its members in large cities, including Vancouver. Ford is also supplying cars to the Zip Cars car-sharing program at universities in Canada and the U.S.
Not everyone is worried that virtual visits will replace in-person visits. Mercedes-Benz Canada’s CEO, Tim Reuss, believes that texting and online conversations are no substitute for going out with friends. “No one likes to sit at home alone with a beer watching their friends on their computer drink their beers. That’s not happening.”