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‘Buy American’ Not as Important to Millennials

Detroit — For millennial car buyers, the “Buy American” movement doesn’t mean much.

Young people are less likely than older car buyers to buy a car because it was made in the U.S., according to a study by AutoTrader.com.

The survey, released Friday at an Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit, found that only 38 percent of millennials say it’s important to buy a car that was assembled in the U.S.

That compares to 53 percent of Generation X and 60 percent of baby boomers, according to AutoTrader.

“It’s important for domestics not to hang their hats on ‘Made in the USA’ to the same extent they did in the past,” said Isabelle Helms, senior director of research and marketing analytics for AutoTrader.com.

But that doesn’t mean millennials, defined by AutoTrader as ages 16 to 32, aren’t interested in vehicles made by U.S.-based car companies.

General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and Ford have swiped millennial market share from Japanese manufacturers in recent years, according to Edmunds.com and Maritz Research.

That’s because millennials aren’t loyal to auto brands. Only 30 percent said they were likely to purchase the same brand for their next vehicle, compared to 41 percent for Generation X and 47 percent for baby boomers.

“Over time, the importance of being a brand that’s made in America has gone down. It’s more the best product wins,” said Amy Marentic, a Ford marketing manager.

Reaching young people is important because millennials will represent 40 percent of car purchases by 2020, Helms said.

Marentic said the automaker has shifted away from emphasizing American manufacturing in marketing to millennials. Instead, the automaker is investing in social media, for example.

“A millennial isn’t going to listen to what Ford says. They don’t care,” she said. “They’re going to listen to what their friend says, or what the person they work with says.”

About 48 percent of millennials said it’s important for their vehicle to reflect their personality, compared to 38 percent of Generation X and 34 percent of baby boomers, AutoTrader found.

Young millennials said the brands that most fit their personality are, in order, Audi, Honda, Mercedes, BMW and Toyota. Older millennials picked Audi, Mercedes, Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota.

But when actually purchasing a vehicle, the top five brands young millennials considered were Honda, Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford and BMW, while older millennials considered Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Nissan.

Problematic for automakers is that many young car shoppers don’t like the current process for buying a vehicle. About 56 percent said they would prefer to avoid interacting with a sales person, compared to 49 percent of Generation X and 37 percent of Baby Boomers.

Only 47 percent considered their dealer to be trustworthy, compared to 64 percent of ages 35 and up.

“If they walk through your front door, they know what they want,” said Chevrolet Sonic marketing manager Dora Nowicki.