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NASCAR ties help Dodge, Chevy win support among Generation Y

November 16, 2010

Perceptions of the automotive industry vary widely among Generation Y social media users, with teens commenting most positively about import brands and their slightly older counterparts more frequently discussing domestic brands.

The study by J.D. Power and Associates examined online conversations by two subsets of Generation Y: teens (ages 12-18) and early careerists (ages 22-29). Although both groups are broadly categorized as part of Generation Y, or the Millennials (those born during the 1980s and early 1990s), each subset has markedly different views, opinions and behaviors from the other.

The reports are designed to help brand managers and marketers better understand these increasingly important consumer segments, which have the potential to attain more spending power than any previous generation. In addition, the reports provide valuable insight into Gen Y consumer perceptions of brands as well as what drives consumers to purchase those brands.

Automotive brands that receive the greatest volumes of online discussion among teens and early careerists, relative to volumes among social media users in other age groups, are in a chart in the print edition of this story.

The report finds that, among early careerists, Dodge and Chevrolet are the two automotive brands discussed most often, relative to mentions by social media users in other demographic groups. Online mentions of these brands also tend to be largely positive. Discussions of these brands focus primarily on their association with NASCAR.

Other frequently mentioned topics include nostalgia references to models such as the Chevrolet Camaro, including the Camaro’s appearance in the recent "Transformers" movie, and the Dodge Challenger.

"Domestic automakers are benefitting from their strong marketing ties and product placement," said Chance Parker of J.D. Power. "When the NASCAR drivers (whom) they sponsor win, domestic automakers also win in terms of recognition among many social media users in their 20s."

Despite this positive brand affinity, domestic auto manufacturers have incurred strong negative sentiment from early careerists for being bailed out by the government.

"Early careerists," said Parker, "cite domestic automakers’ lack of innovation and disregard of consumer demands as reasons for their difficulties."

Among teens, Toyota and Honda garner the largest volumes of discussion. Both teens and early careerists perceive Toyota, as well as other import brands, as more innovative in vehicle features and styling, and for enhanced fuel efficiency, safety and reliability. Lexus and Land Rover are premium brands discussed among early careerists as brands they most aspire to own.

Teen online discussions indicate shifts in perceptions regarding the necessity of and desire to have cars. Aware of the economic difficulties their parents may be facing, teens are less interested in incurring the costs involved with maintaining and fueling a vehicle. Also, with the advent of social media and other forms of electronic communities, teens perceive less of a need to physically congregate, and less of a need for a mode of transportation.

"The negative perceptions of the automotive industry that teens and early careerists hold could have implications on future vehicle sales," said Parker. "Generation Y could have the greatest spending power of any generation—even surpassing that of the Baby Boomers. It will be essential for automakers to earn the trust and loyalty of Gen Y consumers, who are particularly critical of brands and products."

The Teen and Early Careerist Tribe Intelligence Report analyzed more than 300,000 spontaneous online conversations among teens and more than 475,000 online conversations among early careerists that took place in the blogosphere and on message boards between January and August 2009.