Study Suggests Gen Y Could Be “Tipping Point” For Hybrid Adoption

I will be 26 years old in March, planing me smack dab in the middle of “Generation Y,” one of the largest demographics America has ever seen. We are media saavy, socially connected, underemployed and overly-confident. And according to a new study, Gen Y could be the generation that leads America away from oil, and into hybrid and electric vehicles. Sounds good…but does it miss the point?It can be hard, as a car guy, to step out of my skin and try to look at life through the lens of my peers, many of whom look at driving as a chore, rather than as something fun to do. Many of us were handed down crappy 90’s cars, and are turned off by American cars. We’re also the first generation to have been really impacted by the presence of hybrid cars.

The study, conducted by Deloitte, says that among Generation Y, 59% of those surveyed preferred hybrids over conventional gas cars. 2% preferred pure electric vehicles, and only 37% preferred traditional gas engines. That is a pretty shift in perceptions, though there are some pretty obvious reasons why.

Unlike previous generations, Gen Y has had to deal with higher-than-normal gas prices for a good part of their driving career. We are also graduating with more student debt, and have access to more tools, and choices, when it comes to buying a first car. My generation is more concerned with practicality and connectibility than it is with speed and style (though looks still count.) But  89% of Gen Y respondents also want a vehicle that gets better fuel economy than their current ride, which is what makes hybrids so appealing. Connectivity is also an issue of import to Gen Y, with 59% saying in-dash technology is important to interior styling, and 73% seeking a touch-screen interface in their car, with smartphone applications important to 72% of respondents. Basically, we don’t want cars, we want mobile extensions of our connected world. The study believes that our willingness to integrate our technology, and emphasis on fuel efficiency, could what is needed to push hybrid cars into the mainstream.

But there are problems, starting with cost. We want a bargain, a deal, a good investment, which is where many hybrids fall short. It can take years for a hybrid to pay off the premium price versus a less-efficient compact car, like the Chevy Sonic or Hyundai Elantra, both of which are rated at 40 mpg highway. The Sonic starts at $13,865, and the Elantra $15,345, much cheaper than the cheapest hybrid currently on the market, the Honda CR-Z, which starts at 19,495, but delivers less highway mpg. Even the Prius C, which should be rated at a combined 53 mpg, and will have an MSRP of around $19,000, will take years to pay back the owner. And with so many Millenials unemployed, underemployed, or caught under the burden of huge amounts of school debt (this guy), a new car is pretty far down the list of “must-haves.” I have to start paying for health insurance come March 16th, which in and of itself is almost a car payment.

And Generation Y knows this. We are also walking, biking, and moving to urban areas more and more. Cars are not as important to my generation as they were to previous generations. The study says that Gen Y buyers are willing to pay $300 more per mpg improvement for a hybrid over a non-hybrid, which is still $50 short of the $350 per-mpg improvement premium most hybrids charge.

In short, I’m not sold on this study. My generation may be more inclined to buy a hybrid, but once you get into that showroom it’s a whole different world, and I have a feeling most of my peers would still prefer a cheaper compact to a premium hybrid…if they buy a car at all.

Source: Green Car Congress | Image: olly via Shutterstock

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.