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The ABCs of 'Y'

November 23, 2010
Some 63 million youths, alternately called Generation Y, the Millennials or Echo-Boomers, are or soon will be reaching driving age and will have a major influence on the automobile industry. The prospect is causing a lot of hand wringing among the 40- and 50-year-olds who run big car companies.
Manufacturers are somewhat baffled on how to appeal to a generation whose tastes in everything from music to clothes change with the seasons. One answer proffered at last week's Detroit Auto Show by Mitsubishi: a rear seat that is a sofa.
Mitsubishi officials called their concept cars "leap frogs," with design elements that may not enter production for years, if ever. But concepts offer important clues to the design direction of an automaker, and many concepts are aimed squarely at Generation Y.
The response? Design students from Detroit's College for Creative Studies who toured the Mitsubishi display were momentarily speechless. Then they dismissed the concepts.
Despite such negative feedback and the auto industry's current financial woes, executives say they will continue to chase the youth market by pushing the envelope in vehicle design, saying that's the only way to reap bigger profits.
Toyota Motor Corporation has become a powerhouse in the United States thanks to the attraction to Toyotas and Lexuses among Baby Boomers. The carmaker reportedly is so worried about its image with younger buyers that it is considering a third brand, one designed specifically to appeal to Generation Y trendsetters.