The persistent claim that today’s young people aren’t interested in buying cars is wrong, says Strategic Vision, a consultancy that uses psychology and research methods to delve into consumer behavior.

Many factors contribute to slumping new-vehicle sales among young people under 30. They went from representing 10% of the market in 2007 to 8% last year.

Despite the myth that they’re not interested in cars, they in fact tend to feel a deep emotional connection to vehicles and would love to buy a new one. But a lot of them just can’t afford it.

They struggle more than the previous generation of young people, face a lower standard of living than their parents and earn less because of fewer high-paying fulltime jobs in many fields, Strategic Vision says.

They can cover cell phone, Internet and cable bills. But buying a car is out of reach for many of them right now. In time, more young buyers will purchase more new vehicles, the research firm predicts.

Some younger people who are leaning toward buying a used vehicle can be convinced to purchase a new one instead. Strategic Vision recommends ways for automakers and dealers to make that happen.

  • Focus on value. As perceived value increases, so does the love a first-time car buyer has for a vehicle. Low prices are important but “it is equally important for the vehicle to not be ‘cheap,’” Strategic Visions says.
  • Stress versatility. Generation Y buyers want a vehicle that makes it easy to transport their friends and belongings. Highlight vehicle features that are convenient, easy to use and hassle-free.
  • Offer customization. They like to personalize a vehicle through color coordination, accessories and style. This reinforces pride, one of the key emotions of this group, say Strategic Vision researchers who track the strength of the emotional impact vehicles have on buyers. “They want to show their values, they want to show their success in different ways than in overt flashiness or snazziest,” Barbara Bylenga, founder of Outlaw Consulting, says during a Ford program on young people.

Still, many of them currently lack the wherewithal to buy a new car, no matter what’s done to lure them to a dealership. “The good news is that the underlying desire is there,” Strategic Vision says.