The Challenge Of Luring Young Car Buyers Spreads To Europe

By Micheline Maynard

We’ve all heard a lot about the difficulties that American auto companies are having in attracting buyers under age 35. It seems the problem is just as acute in Europe.

The electric BMW i3.

According to the New York Times, carmakers there are hoping that technological innovations will be the key to getting younger buyers into automobiles. But it’s an even tougher sell, given Europe’s wide transit network, the popularity of bicycling, the availability of bike sharing and governments’ green policies.

Auto sales in Europe are down 20 percent this year, and have fallen even more in the most troubled economies. Without young buyers, economists are concerned that European carmakers may never achieve their sales peaks again.

“There are products that are hipper for young people than cars,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen in northern Germany and an industry analyst, told the Times. “The car companies are still using the old marketing pitch — more horsepower. That doesn’t speak to young people any more.” In Germany, the average age of a car buyer is 5,  and annual sales have fallen below 3 million vehicles for the first time in more than 20 years.

One solution might be to interest younger buyers in technology, a tact that BMW is taking with its new i3. Many people in the industry believe the i3 is the most significant electric vehicle since the Tesla Model S. But the i3 won’t be cheap: it is expected to cost $42,000 when it is introduced in the U.S. next year.

Because there are alternatives to automobiles, both transportation wise and entertainment wise, European customers have high expectations from the manufacturers. They get first look at most of the vehicles introduced by the major players such as Volkswagen, Mercedes, Audi and Fiat, and their standards often determine whether those models will be sold elsewhere in the world.

“Google and Facebook are taking away the young customers,” Dudenhöffer said. “But none of the automakers has a big idea, none of them.”


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