Millennials still buy cars, says Ally Bank — they’re just doing it differently

Much ado has been made of the peculiar habits of millennials — those born between 1980 and 2000, roughly — including their supposed aversion to purchasing cars, which could threaten the very nature of the automotive industry.

Despite a laundry list of reasons not to buy a car, however (reducing your ecological imprint, improved public transit systems in urban centers and cities, more people working from their homes), millennials are still doing so, according to Andrea Brimmer, Ally Bank’s chief marketing and public relations officer, who stopped by the Digital Trends CES booth for a friendly chat. They’re just going about it differently.

“Five years ago, the average consumer [visited] five different dealerships [while shopping for a car],” said Brimmer. “Now, the average is one. Not only are they deciding [online] what they want to buy, but where they want to buy; there’s more transparency in the process than ever before. When walking into a dealership, they’re very well-armed with that information, and they have a lot of info about the dealership itself.”

Brimmer points to the proliferation of car-shopping websites on the internet and the increased popularity of social media sites as tools that young buyers use to educate themselves. “[Millennials] activate their social armies,” talking to friends and heading online to learn more about both cars and dealerships before acting on that information. In studies, Ally Bank found that millennials are not buying cars less often than baby boomers or members of Generation X; they’re simply saving money for longer before doing so, which coincides with such trends in marriage and childbirth.

Some studies predict that ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft will push many Americans out of their personal cars and into the backseat, but Ally sees a different trend: Some millennials are actually buying cars specifically for employment opportunities, as ridesharing companies typically require their drivers to use a relatively new vehicle. Plus, as cars become more infused with new tech thanks to companies like Apple, Samsung, and Harman (Brimmer calls them “computers on wheels”), Ally has found that people are turning over their vehicles faster in order to have the latest tech at their fingertips.

If Ally is correct, millennials aren’t giving up on owning cars. They’re just more savvy and informed about the purchasing process than previous generations.