Dealer Trends

What to Expect from Car Buyers in 2022

The car-buying world is experiencing a shift in purchasing behavior tied to customer generations. Each generation's upbringing dictates what type of methods drive engagement most effectively. As Baby Boomers and Generation X age, the number of Millennial and Generation Z car buyers continue to grow.

Many car buyers in 2022 have grown up with technology dominating their livelihood. With that in mind, many market trends shift to focus on their technologically oriented preferences to improve engagement.

  • Baby Boomers: Defined as those born between 1946 and 1964. In 2020, they made up 32% of car buyers.
  • Generation X: Defined as those born between 1965 and 1981. In 2020, they made up 38% of car buyers.
  • Millennials: Defined as those born between 1982 and 1995. In 2020, they made up 23% of car buyers.
  • Generation Z: Defined as those born between 1996 and 2011. In 2020, they made up 1% of car buyers.

Generation X

Generation X is the first generation with a predominant use of mobile devices. As such, having a mobile-friendly website for them is essential. As with Baby Boomers, Generation X's most used social media platform is Facebook. This generation will also still interact with broadcast TV with the addition of streaming services. Email marketing is also a practical course of engagement for Generation X.

Current Engagement

This generation is also known for its brand loyalty, making them an appealing generation to target for long-term relationships.

  • Mobile Interface
  • Facebook
  • Video Content
  • Email Campaigns

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers have been the predominant car-buying generation for years. Primarily responsible for shaping the traditional dealership experience as we knew it, this generation grew alongside the rapid expansion of vehicle ownership. Information wasn't as easily attainable decades ago as it is today. Advertisements for a new car would have come from a newspaper clipping or television.

Outside of whatever information could be squeezed into these ads, prospective buyers would have little knowledge of their potential car. Dealerships weren't there simply to facilitate a sale but also to educate the customer about the finer details of their vehicle. As such, a strong sales team and excellent communication skills were vital for the success of any dealership.

Needed Changes

Statistics state that the sales process takes about 53 minutes in a dealership, appraisals another 43 minutes, and finances a final 61 minutes. This does not account for any time spent researching the car beforehand. While the practice has worked for many years, recent generations have yearned for a more streamlined experience. Baby Boomers have received a more streamlined online approach alongside no-haggle lots. While there will undoubtedly be individuals who prefer to approach car buying the "old fashion way," dealers should not be stagnant themselves with more modern methods.

Current Engagement

When looking at majorities, Baby Boomers are the last generation to interact with traditional media. Both print and television are still worthwhile avenues for anyone trying to drive Baby Boomer engagement. That being said, this generation has a growing social media presence similar to other generations. Utilizing platforms such as Facebook opens up dealership engagement avenues. Additionally, Baby Boomers are also more receptive to text-based engagements. Whether it's email campaigns or relevant blog content, this group is more likely to read through content rather than watch internet videos.

  • Traditional Media
  • Facebook
  • Blog Content
  • Email Campaigns


Millennials are set to become the next predominant car-buying generation. Experiencing rapid technological changes through their childhoods, Millennials are familiar with the traditional processes but show solid preferences for streamlined alternatives. Millennials are highly proficient in online-based interactions, playing a direct role in the evolution of computers and the internet.

Evolution of Advertising

This can easily be seen in the rapid increase of online advertising spending in the automotive industry. While it accounted for 33.6% of spending in 2016, it jumped to an overwhelming 60.7% of advertising spending within just four years. In general, 88% of car buyers already use the internet when considering their next car, opening a gateway for customer engagement. While millennials can undoubtedly navigate the traditional dealership model, new approaches might offer better engagement. Allowing customers to spend less time at the dealership will keep them happy. Additionally, opting for a direct and upfront pricing method is also greatly preferred. While haggling may have been expected years ago, newer generations appreciate upfront pricing.

Current Engagement

Unlike the previous generations, Millennials require a different approach to marketing and engagement. Both online reviews and the opinions of people they know weigh heavily on their purchase decisions. This generation is notoriously distrustful of traditional commercial advertising and looks for more "authentic" outreach. Social media use is very high among Millennials.

Millennials spend minimal time watching traditional television and instead use various streaming services and Youtube. While Facebook is still a widely used platform, other outlets like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok have become more prevalent. The group prefers personalized outreach when possible and highlights the value of a product. Unlike previous generations, email marketing is not as effective with millennials.

  • Reviews
  • Social Media
  • Video Content

Generation Z

While Gen Z makes up the minority of car buyers today, their preferences are strong toward a digital focus. Born into technology, this growing generation has no desire to step offline. As Gen Z ages, the traditional car-buying process will likely fade. Preparing for the future, automakers like Tesla and Ford have begun catering to the tech-forward generations. Both dealerships and automakers alike are now growing their digital offerings. Online purchases, digital paperwork, home deliveries, mobile service, and app monitoring are all progressing into standardization.

Current Engagement

Continuing the trend, Generation Z abandons traditional media in favor of the internet. The current minority group has a strong distaste for blatant advertising. As with Millennials, Generation Z does a lot of research on a product or service and considers the opinions of their close ones. Influencer marketing also has had excellent success with Generation Z. Instagram, and TikTok are the social media leaders of Generation Z. Streaming services and Youtube are the preferred vehicles for content delivery. Short-form videos are by far one of the most effective ways of driving engagement with Generation Z. Unlike Millennials; Generation Z is quick to adapt and won't show as much brand loyalty, allowing dealerships to increase conversions with better engagement practices.

  • Reviews
  • Social Media
  • Short Form Video

Activator's Take

The long-lasting Pandemic and constant global supply constraints continue to have a lasting effect on producing new vehicles and how they are sold. In addition to rapidly changing global conditions, new generations of car buyers have entirely evolved their buying preferences, focusing on adapting to the new age of technology and minimalism. While there are overlaps between generations, the best way to drive engagement will differ slightly.

Customers want to do business their way, plain and simple. We're in an exciting era of on-demand everything and instant gratification, and those expectations spill into just about every aspect of consumer life. Dealerships that can create tailored customer experiences are more likely to do better than their competitors.

For example, you might let the customer select from three different rewards, discounts, or offers to increase redemption rates. This enables the customer to take control of their experience based on their current needs. Plus, you can learn more about your customers' preferences and use this to personalize your marketing in the future.

It's time to look at the overall picture of marketing engagement and customer lifecycles. Take Activator for a test drive today and elevate your dealership engagement solution beyond surface-level marketing to market like a pro.

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