Tyler Kalmink is not your typical 19-year-old kid.

He’s a focused college student who, after only an accelerated two-and-a-half years of studies, will graduate in December with a 4-year business degree from Northwood University in Midland, MI.

While some college kids held menial summer jobs, Tyler worked as a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual. Next week, he will be doing a pro-forma financial statement for a relative’s new small-business venture.

The young man looks quite natural wearing a suit, tie and dress shirt with cufflinks while sitting on stage between two of his professors, Timothy Nash and Thomas Alexander, who treat him as a prized student.

The three are here in San Francisco presenting the results of a Northwood research project to the American Financial Services Assn.’s vehicle-finance conference being held in conjunction with the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention.

The study centers on a survey of young people and concludes Generation Y members (19- 31-year olds) differ from their elders as car consumers.


The conclusion is auto makers, dealers and lenders should adjust for this new breed of buyers because they want what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

While I’m not disputing the study’s results, per se, some of the questions during the Q&A segment baffle me.

Some conference attendees ask the young man various things about his particular buying habits and preferences, such as: “Tyler, when buying a car, are you more interested in price or how you’re treated?”

They are fair questions, but asked as if the teen singularly represents the views of 77 million Gen Y’ers.

I would submit Tyler Kalmink – polished, focused and at ease presenting research results to a gathering of financial executives – cannot speak for an entire young generation.

Nor, conversely, can a teenager who didn’t go to college, dresses casually to a fault, speaks in slang and works at a minimum-wage job.

Nor can anyone.

It’s too easy, and too inaccurate, to bundle up an entire generation and surmise that they collectively think and act alike.

Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

Much talk today centers on how Gen Y wants a pleasant car-buying experience, fair pricing, transparent financing and quick delivery.

But heck, who doesn’t want that? Today, virtually everyone expects it, no matter how old they are. That’s how far the bar has been raised in automotive retailing.

I share my opinions with Tyler while chatting with him after the conference.

He diplomatically says I might be right, which, as my Gen Y son has playfully told me, in such situations implies you might be wrong, too.

“What do your parents do?” I ask Tyler, a native of Grand Rapids, MI.

“Well, my stepdad is a retired banker. My mom is a CPA. And my dad manages a big chicken farm. I’m a real white-collar/blue-collar mix.”

Gee, maybe he is a good representative sampling of Gen Y after all. Whether he is or isn’t, he’s still a nice kid.

I ask him what he wants to do after college. “I might get into vehicle financing,” he says. “It’s a good way to make a lot of money.”