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Detroit Auto Show: Reality Bites Gen Y

DETROIT -- The recession has hit Gen Y particularly hard, with implications for the U.S. auto industry including a greater interest in used cars for this up-and-coming age group; a much higher interest in gas mileage; and less inclination to pay extra for features like Internet connectivity in the car, along with the potential for greater distracted driving.

Gen Y ranked gas mileage the No. 1 feature they're looking for in a car, according to a Deloitte LLP survey of 1,100 respondents aged 18 to 30, in conjunction with the marketing department at Michigan State University. Deloitte timed the release of the survey to coincide with the press preview of this week's Detroit auto show.

In a year-ago survey, Gen Y ranked safety the No. 1 consideration. "Comfort" features such as stereos and navigation also fell down the list of considerations in this year's survey versus last year, said Michelle Collins, vice chairman and U.S. sector leader for Deloitte's Automotive Practice.

At the same time, Gen Y respondents in this year's survey also indicated a greater appetite for used cars, with more than 60 percent saying they would consider a used car.

"We think the economy is really impacting Gen Y and their jobs," Collins said in an interview.

The consumer electronics industry and their car company partners are rolling out a long list of high-tech features aimed squarely at Gen Y, but until the economy improves, younger buyers may simply stick with their hand-held devices, Collins said.

That could be bad news for distracted driving, since a lot of the effort behind features like Ford Sync is aimed at reducing distracted driving by allowing drivers to use voice control to run their hand-held devices in the car.

"Gen Y are demanding, but smart and practical-minded consumers," Collins said. "We didn't see those (high-tech) items hitting hard in the survey. Some in the group we talked to said they don't want to pay more for GPS or for connectivity because they already have all the functionality, so why pay more?" Collins said.

Photo: Deloitte