How Buick’s staid Buick Century, a nameplate that even sounds old, became a youth car, sort of.
Some auto makers show child-like glee in debuting “youth” cars.
Motor Sales U.S.A. went so far as to create a youth brand, Scion. But it isn’t doing well these days, with the tC model down 37.6%; the xD down 31.4%; and xB off 19.7%.
’s Japanese home market has no such brand. Young people there balk at buying cars, citing costs and traffic-jam hassles. No wonder Toyota fixates so on the American market.
Toyota has sold Scions in the U.S. since 2004. Apparently the kids of America are so special they get their own car brand. But should they? Do they even want one? Maybe not.
At a Ward’s conference a couple of years ago, a hip ad-agency guy, whom Toyota had hired to launch Scion, talked about using the likes of edgy Internet games and online viral advertising to connect with Generation Y.
Listening to all that, Daniel Buechlein, a dealership sales manager in the rural town of Jasper, IN, turned to me and said: “We don’t have Generation Y in our market. We have farm boys. And they like pickup trucks, not Scions.”
What is a youth vehicle, anyway? Well, it could be a Ferrari F151 or aMustang Shelby GT500, because young people, young males anyway, drool over those pricey 4-wheel rockets. But how many proud young owners do you see driving around in those?
The Scion models,Cube, Kia Soul and the like all are billed as youth cars – and some kids do buy them. But so do oldsters, to the horror of that ad guy.
“We felt like telling Toyota, ‘Don't sell Scions to old people,’” he said. Good luck there. An axiom of auto sales: Anyone who can buy the car, gets the car.
Michael Baker, CEO of a San Diego dealership group, tells me many of his Scion buyers are empty nesters and – heaven forbid – retirees. They like the vehicles’ functionality.
But there is a hands-down youth car. It has held that title for generations. It’s called the used car.
Sure, some rich folks buy their kids brand-new cars for their 16th birthdays and such. But most young people either get the old hand-me-down family vehicle or head to the used-car lot to see what they can afford.
Often, their parents aid them financially. That can skew auto-demographic information on youthful preferences.
Here’s an example:
Certain mid-2000 data perplexed a firm that tracks vehicle-ownership trends. The data indicated many young people drove, of all things, used Buick Century sedans.
That seemed odd because, back then, Buick in general and the Century in particular appealed mainly to the grey set. Why then, did so many Gen Y’ers drive older-model Century 4-doors?
Data digging revealed that behind those youthful Buick motorists were parents who influenced the choice of vehicle, in part because they controlled the purse strings but also because, when it comes to big matters, kids usually do listen to their parents. Clean the room? No. Vehicle pick? Yes.
Mom and dad saw the staid Century as a sensible car, the type a kid wouldn’t go nuts in.
The folks also liked the price. At the time,was overproducing and pushing vehicles on a market that wasn’t asking for them. Exhibit A for that was the now-defunct Century. The glut hurt residual values and drove down used-car prices.
Parents saw the pre-owned Century as a cheap, no-nonsense car for their kids, many of whom were heading off or commuting to college. And that is how the unadventurous Century, a nameplate that even sounds old, became a youth car, sort of.