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Driving? Gen Y is Just Not That Into It

Dude, who cares about your car? That's the conclusion of a survey by J.D. Power and Associates that examined Twitter and Facebook messages from the "millennials" (also known as Gen Y).

According to Mike Cooperman, director of marketing for Power's web intelligence division, "The most interesting conclusion we came to is that millennials don't talk about cars the way previous generations did. It used to be that when you turned 16 you went down to the DMV and got your license, but young people care more about their cell phones then they do their cars."

Part of the reason for this, Cooperman said, is that young people use Facebook, Twitter and IM messages to stay in touch, so physical proximity doesn't matter as much as it used to. Cell phones and PDAs mean that everyone they know is connected. "Teens feel less of a need to physically congregate," the study says, "and less of a need for a mode of transportation."

Auto companies have recently gotten hip to social media, and are trying to use it to reach younger car buyers. Ford, for instance, is putting a second group of young bloggers into its upcoming Fiesta small car, and Ford, Chrysler and GM have social media directors. But is the message getting through to these would-be consumers?

Through Twitter, Ford social media guru Scott Monty pointed out that millennials might not be into cars now, but they will be: "Wait until they have kids."

Certainly, the members of Gen Y drive and buy cars. The difference, Cooperman's research suggests, is that the automakers can't just paste the old messages onto the new tools . "The way Gen Y responds to media and marketing messages is vastly different from Gen X and the baby boomers," he said. "They won't be able to have instant success just by saying, 'Let's start a Facebook page'"

One message the millennials are looking for is respect for the environment--up to a point. "They might not buy a car or product because it's green," according to Cooperman, "but they would take one off their shopping list because it wasn't," he said.

J.D. Power's survey looked at branding interest among this group. They get excited about American Idol, Google, Twitter, Yahoo! and YouTube. When it comes to retailers and quick-service restaurants, these "early careerists" message each most often about (in this order) Anthropologie, Bath & Body Works, Old Navy, Victoria's Secret and Forever21. Arby's gets the nod among fast-food restaurants, followed by Cold Stone Creamery, Subway, Taco Bell and Panera Bread.

As the father of two teenaged daughters, I can say much of what Power observed is true in my house. My older daughter is 15, but she's in no great hurry to get her license. And both my girls message like mad, using Facebook and various IM services. They may not see their friends in person all that often, but they're never out of touch.