by Dan Sherman
Generation Y is technology driven. Growing up we watched our phones evolve from corded chunks of plastic into sleek, wireless minicomputers. My personal network of Echo Boomers confirms that they expect high levels of technology out of everything they use daily. Today’s automobiles have the potential to be rolling iPhones, but most of the hottest mobile tech is sequestered solely for luxury vehicles. Are automakers foolish to aim this complicated technology at the geezer market, foregoing young techies?
Phones are for calling, right? Calls are so a generation ago. An Echo Boomer expects a mobile entertainment device loaded with everything imaginable. Likewise, cars are not just for driving. A 21-year-old engineering student I interview said, “I want everything [in my next car]—bluetooth, internet, music, touch screen, voice recognition, and more. I think most kids expect the unexpected when it comes to technology.” Generation Y loves technology, and a large concentration is willing to pay for it over other car characteristics like size or horsepower.
It is thus inexcusable that automakers leave my demographic untapped. The problem lies in the age-old “trickle-down” method of introducing luxury features. Traditionally, the Audi A8’s price tag is justified by a fresh new luxury feature, which five years down the road trickles down to into the lowly Volkswagen Golf. While this practice may work for a feature like heated and cooled seats, most technology appeals primarily to Echo Boomers. Automakers would be smart to make high technology available across their entire lineup, especially in their small, hip, less expensive models.
In fact, the array of new technology may be improperly positioned in luxury cars. Yes, the price tag for a voice-recognizing computer can be justified by the buyer of an Infiniti M45, but does it properly serve the M45’s target market? To grossly generalize, most luxury car buyers are 50+ years old, and most 50+ year olds are technologically impaired. While Echo Boomers are open to exploring new technologies, older folks are less willing to play the trial-and-error game. Even my relatively techno-savvy father gets routinely frustrated by his GLK350; in fact, the complication of such technology can be a negative to luxury target buyers! Manufacturers should consider making complicated technology optional rather than standard in the high priced cars.
For customers of all ages, Apple’s success emphasizes the monumental importance of user interface. The iPod, iPhone, and MacBook are all successful due to their ease of use. If car technology became as user-friendly as Apple products, older consumers may be less frustrated. Furthermore, Echo Boomers have already shown their willingness to pay much more for Apple products over their PC equivalents. The first manufacturer to produce rolling iPods will win the hearts, minds and wallets of Americans of all ages.