Ford Still Trying to Get Millennials to Like Them

Poor Ford.

Ford, you're trying a little too hard. Photo: ## Jared##

They’re trying so hard. They’re like the Cassandra of the car world, foretelling the future of less driving, more transportation options, a preference for car-lite urban living. They’ve been re-designing their Mustang to appeal to younger folks and stressing their move away from cars and toward “mobility opportunities” (like driving cars). And now they’re holding panels with hip marketing firms, trying to figure out how to crack that elusive youth market. You know, the one that doesn’t want to buy cars.

Salon was there yesterday and brings us this dispatch:

The invitation from Ford, which had put on the event, told us the goal: “use data, trends and expertise to show that Millennials aren’t just a bunch of PBR-drinking hipsters who spin vinyl and ride bikes.” We were trepidatious. …

Attendees were asked to tweet about the event using the hashtag “#fordtrends.”

Cars went little discussed, at first: The Ford Fiesta, around which the company had tried to build a “movement” by lending cars, for free, to “influencers” and asking them to document their experience online, was generally agreed upon to have been a success among millennial car buyers. But the event was intended generally to get a sense of how brands might attach themselves, lamprey-like, to millennials who lack purchasing power as yet. Said [David] Rabkin, of American Express: “We attract a ton of millennials but aren’t able to approve them for many of our products, so we need to work on a relationship. Who are they now vs. who will they be when they hit our sweet spot of people who spend a lot of money? But we do love their spend.”

If you can decode ad-speak and know what “we do love their spend” means, please let me know in the comments. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure it means they’re trying to suck blood from a stone, so actually, never mind.

The assembled marketing geniuses lamented the shiftlessness of Gen Y, their laziness about finding jobs amid a recession that erased 2.5 million jobs that it never put back, but took heart that they all have trust funds, so really, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be buying Ford Fiestas. They’re so fun and youthful! And even if they can’t buy those cute little buggies now, well, Ford will be there, aggressively marketing to them, when the millennials hit that “sweet spot” of earning power. They’ll be wrapping cars in tattoos! They’ll be reminding this tech generation that there are lots of little computers in cars! They’ll be totally hip to the whole mobile phone thing!

So, um, Ford? We hate to bust this bubble for you. Millennials aren’t buying your cars, and it’s not because they’re too lazy to afford them. It’s because they’re just not that into you. That whole cruising-around-Main-Street-in-your-hot-wheels thing? They’re sort of over that. Not that young folks have totally given you up – the addiction you’ve helped inculcate in our culture persists all too strongly – but young people just coming into their prime simply will not replace all the driving that was done by the older folks that are retiring now.

If you really want to keep up, maybe you should start manufacturing streetcars or bikes?

25 thoughts on Ford Still Trying to Get Millennials to Like Them

  1. If Ford and the other auto companies were smart, they would retool to make high-speed trains and mass transit EMUs. That’s a growth industry. Cars not so much.

  2. yes because that’s so easy to do

    we gave GM and Chrysler billions in public assistance. Let them do it

  3. GM already makes diesel locomotives and transit buses. It’s not that much of a stretch to retool an auto assembly plant to make rail vehicles. Despite trying to shoehorn cars into every possible transportation scenario over the last 75 years they’re largely a massive failure in most situations compared to other modes. In urban areas trains, buses and bicycles all work better. Going from the suburbs to the city for work commuter rail works better. For intercity transit high-speed rail works better. The only niche cars are useful for is traveling from one point in the suburbs to another. With the suburbs on the way out, that niche is fast disappearing. Settlement patterns are trending mostly towards urban. Cars will never be a good fit in urban areas compared to other modes. The sooner all the auto companies see this and plan accordingly the better.

    We shouldn’t have wasted money bailing out GM and Chrysler. The hard fact is with the auto market contracting at best there will be room for one or two companies who specialize in autos. The rest need to either disappear or retool for other products.

  4. GM sold off their locomotive and bus businesses some time ago. And retooling an automobile plant to built light-rail and electric suburban cars would be close to the changeover in 1942 when Ford went from cars to bombers. Not saying it can’t be done, but there’s a big difference between cranking out motor vehicles by the tens and hundreds of thousands, and building rail cars in lots of 50 to 200.

  5. I find it fascinating that the baby boomers, the most spoilt generation ever, characterize the millennials as lazy. Frankly, none of the millennials I know fit that category, but plenty of entitled 50 and 60 something’s do!

  6. I’ve seen quite a few car ads where they demonstrate the car’s power and handling by passing other vehicles, including semis, in an unsafe manner. Ads like that should be illegal even if they stick “Do not attempt. Professional drivers on a closed course.” in ultra fine lettering under the ad. The target audience won’t read it. They’ll just get the car and drive like morons.

  7. I think everything that was said in the article could really be said about every auto manufacturer. So I am not seeing the point of discussing specifically Ford.

  8. Millennials think owning cars is for people who are forced by unfortunate circumstances to live in the suburbs.

  9. It’s amazing how the counttry can get tied into knots because the young people are buying $600 fashion accessories instead of $20,000 fashion accessories.

  10. I wish high-speed trains were a growth industry. But I’m not so sure. It’s a fight to the death to get even perhaps the most obvious line, SF to LA, underway.

    Meanwhile, to compete overseas in the countries that are smart enough to invest in HSR would be hard, because so many other trainset makers have decades of experience already.

  11. I think for both national security and economic reasons it’s essential not only to build a high-speed rail system here which dwarfs even China’s, but also to get the US into a leadership position in high-speed rail technology. Yes, we have decades of catching up to do, but we have lots of smart engineers here. It’s more a question of will than ability if you ask me. And given the distances in this country, we have an enormous economic incentive to invest in R&D to see if we can increase HSR speeds even higher than the 360 km/hr which they seem to have plateaued at. If we can do that, they maybe other countries will be buying our trains. Even if they have no use for the higher speeds, a train which has a design speed of, say, 450 km/hr, will be safer and more economical to run at 300 km/hr than existing models.

  12. Actually, the suburbs are just better of covering up how lousy their schools are but soon enough they won’t be able to hide it. Outside of schools, which are becoming less competitive with city schools anyway, what compelling reason do millennials have to move out to the suburbs?

  13. allz theyz needz 2do iz havez rappin’ bout ford carz 2seem o’so kool. we’z all wearz paper hatz.

  14. “what compelling reason do millennials have to move out to the suburbs”

    again, schools. If I have the choice between DCPS and Arlington, Fairfax, or Montgomery – then it’s no longer a choice.

    space – the hi rise condo/apartment is great for 2. But 1, 2, 3 little ones to toddlers and 900 sq ft gets tight. Sq footage in urban areas is already $$$. more sq ft more $$$

    $$$ in general…millenials are moving into 30 somethings. We can continue to sink money away in rent, or begin to build long term wealth in equity and property – but when an urban condo goes for $500k+ and a single fam unit out in burbs in $150-200k less, it suddenly looks a lot more attractive

    Workforce dynamics – I work in DC now. But could easily find myself working in Reston, or Ft. Belvoir, or any number of other non-city center large workforce area. If I’m building long term equity in a home, but change jobs 3-5 years, I’m not likely to move every 3-5 years

  15. The thing is you *don’t* save money moving to the suburbs, not when you’re paying for at least one car, often two or three. And the cost of owning a car and driving will only get more expensive. Real estate taxes in the suburbs are generally MUCH higher also. I’ve done this calculus for several people already to show them that they’re actually no worse off living in the city than in the suburbs. Usually you’ll make more at the same type of job working in the city. That partially offsets the extra housing expense. Not needing to own a car offsets the rest.

    You can get private homes in the city if that’s what you want, and in many areas of NYC they’re $500K or less. That takes care of the building equity part. Compared to a $300K house in LI or NJ, a $500K or $600K house in the city ends up being no more expensive when you figure everything.

    There’s also the quality of life issue. The suburbs are dull, uninteresting places to live no matter how you spin it. I think it hurts a child’s development to grow up in such a place more than it does growing up in a city with worse schools. It also hurts adults who end up spending a large amount of their time is traffic jams or otherwise just driving everywhere. People’s time is worth something too. I think it’s very stifling living in a place where you need to hop in a car to do anything.

  16. Just to prove what I’m saying, look at this map:

    You’ll see a lot of yellow (housing plus transportation 45% of income) in the surrounding suburbs. This just illustrates the point in my last post about the suburbs not really being cheaper once you factor in everything.

  17. “Don’t want to drive” , I doubt it. More like, “Can’t AFFORD a New Car”!

  18. But when you look at the map, what you might be seeing is higher income people can afford to pay high housing costs in urban areas. What we know is that as income increases the total household expenditure on housing increases but the proportion of household income expended on housing decreases. That is, upper income people drive up housing costs for everyone by setting prices. So, the maps aren’t a clear argument that housing and transportation costs combined are lower in cities. Secondly, economists tend to argue that lower income people (and minorities) get less housing value for their money. That is, if you look at the rents paid and examine the quality of housing, schools, parks, transportation services, police, ems, etc, lower income people are getting less stuff overall for their housing expenditures than upper income people. So, the mix of goods that needs to be examined to understand who is paying more and who is paying less is pretty large – just saying urbanites pay less for housing and transportation doesn’t prove urban areas are a “good deal” overall. Now, of course I prefer living in a central city neighborhood and I think driving is bad and want people to drive less. All I’m saying is that the map isn’t very persuasive to me. There are other good reasons for us to live in more compact cities, but the economics are more complex than the map is showing.

  19. Sorry, but I don’t buy that the wages in cities are higher. The US Census Bureau has defined something called “metropolitan areas” and ” micropolitan areas” based on the commuting patterns from surveys. These “metropolitan areas” are defined by commuting patterns. If enough people in new jersey or connecticut travel into NYC for work than NJ and CT become part of the Newark-New York-Stamford (or whatever the third city is) metro area… In other words, the offices in cities have employees from suburbs and from cities themselves. So there is a single labor market for cities and suburbs. Now many organizations in cities pay more, but that is not because those organizations are only hiring city dwellers or some magic like that. Organizations in cities tend to be higher paying and because they want to attract better workers. They often locate centrally within the region in order to be more accessible to workers from everywhere in the region, to be closer to clients or customers, or because they have higher revenues and can afford to buy/rent in more expensive and prestigious locations. So, often organizations in downtown have higher revenues, more productive workers, and can afford to pay higher rents/land costs. But, the workorce is coming from across the region. That’s why the employer is downtown – in order to attract workers from everywhere int he region. So, there’s a correlation between being downtown and paying more in many cities, but that doesn’t translate to “if you live in the suburbs than you will work for a subruban employer and make less money”, and many suburban employers pay very well. For instance, in the DC area the defense contractors are clustered in suburbs and these organizations pay very well. THe more political entities are clustered downtown – for access and prestige reasons, in my opinion. But that is also consistent with the theory I am spelling out – that firms locate downtown to access customers or clients or to attract workers more easily.

  20. The map supposedly takes an average wage, average housing cost, and average transportation costs in each area. I assume they only include “necessary” transportation costs, such as to work or school. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive economic analysis of suburban versus urban living. Yes, there are other reasons to live in cities. Some are economic, others are less tangible. In any case, I often hear people saying they can’t afford to live in the city when this map shows otherwise. Maybe that’s true for people who refuse to go carless under any circumstances. You’re obviously not saving on car expenses by living in the city if you continue to have a car. There are many levels of complexity as you mention, and I can’t really argue with any particular one of them. Sure, the map greatly simplifies things, but at least I’m finally able to see data which supports my back of the envelope calculations that it’s often more expensive to live in a suburb than in a city. I would also like to see studies of other benefits of city life, such as health care costs and also free time. As a competitive society we’ve been reluctant to place any value at all on free time, but I think we’re finally beginning to realize how important it is for overall well-being. I would much rather have 1/3 the living space if it means I don’t have to spend 3 hours each day sitting in traffic in a metal box. That’s wasted time I’ll never get back.

  21. You’re using two unusual cases. Defense contractors in DC suburbs (and they also existed in Long Island) are an economic anomaly. Here the government is paying whatever they need to pay to attract the best and the brightest. By their nature, most companies which do work for the Department of Defense can’t be located in urban areas. Indeed, some of them are in the middle of the desert. They don’t matter as far as what we’re discussing here.

    The NY-NJ-CT metro area is a special case. It’s actually quite feasible to live in, say, Princeton, NJ, and work on Wall Street. That 50+ mile commute actually takes less time than many commutes from the outer boroughs to Manhattan. Same thing with other parts of the metro area suburbs. This is thanks to our extensive commuter rail system. Don’t forget many of the metro area suburbs have existed for over a century. They are your classical “street car suburbs”. A better analogy to make my point would be car-oriented suburbs built since WWII. In most cases, it’s not at all feasible to live in these suburbs and work at a higher wage job in the center city. Commuter rail doesn’t exist, and a 50 or 70 mile auto commute could take well over 2 hours each way. Sure, some people do it, but they’re an outlier. Generally, when you live in a car-oriented suburb you’ll also work within 30 to 45 minutes of where you live. If you’re in the close-in suburbs, then maybe it’s feasible to work in the city center. In most cases it isn’t.

    I absolutely agree with your basic premise that city wages aren’t always higher and there’s a lot more complexity to it (i.e. $1 to $2 an hour illegal aliens working in urban food establishments). However, to a first approximation it’s still largely true. The first rule of anything is that there are always exceptions to the rule

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