This is Generation Y, or Gen Y. And their automotive priorities change from year to year, according to Deloitte LLP, which has been mapping Gen Y trends since 2009 with an annual survey.
Some 59 percent of these 19- to 31-year-olds expressed a preference for an alternative fuel system. Gasoline-hybrid systems were overwhelming choices, with gas-only powertrains second. Pure battery electric vehicles were preferred by only 2 percent of the respondents.
Respondents interested in fuel economy did have their limits, however, indicating they were willing to pay up to $300 for each one-mile-per-gallon advantage.
They are ready to visit dealerships, saying customer experience is three times as important as vehicle styling. Gen Y also are willing to pay for the technology they seek and expect, want to personalize their vehicles, are not especially brand loyal and favor larger vehicles like SUVs and crossovers.
Safety, which was the top concern in 2009, is still a high priority but the recent respondents said they believe government will regulate vehicle safety and the car makers will provide it.
Deloitte asked business schools at UCLA, Michigan State University and Carnegie Mellon University to analyze 2011 study results and give and defend presentations at a forum in Detroit in January.
The student team at Carnegie Mellon — all members of Gen Y — was asked to focus on issues of vehicle interiors and driver interfacing.
"Survey respondents said in-vehicle electronics should be intuitive," said MBA candidate Darren Olson. "They expect to use voice commands, though voice recognition as it is now is not too practical."
Carnegie student Wende Burgess said if she were buying a new car tomorrow her top priority would be heated leather seats.
"I'd also want it to connect with my phone and iPod through its speakers," Burgess said.
"And it has to be fun, to show my personality," she added.
Close to three quarters of those surveyed said in-car technology was important, said Craig Giffi, vice chairman and automotive practice leader at Deloitte. Gen Y consumers, on average, were willing to spend more than $3,000 for connectivity hardware, he reported.
Jesse Alleyne was another member of the Carnegie Mellon student team. With an engineering background and a strong attachment to his 2001 Acura Integra LS, Alleyne said if he were in the market today for a new car, performance would be at the top of his must-haves list.
Fuel economy and styling were also important to him.
Giffi suggested that Gen Y, who number 80 million, "may be the game changers" in the U.S. market. Their interest in hybrid vehicles may move the industry "away from gasoline-powered vehicles."
Business students from Michigan State University studied the Deloitte 2011 survey results in the area of powertrain.
"What was new in 2011 was that a majority of Gen Y preferred vehicles that were powered by something other than traditional gas or diesel combustion engines," said Clay Voorhees, who was faculty advisor to the students and has served as a research partner with the Deloitte survey since its inception.
"But the price barriers must fall," Voorhees said. "To experience the additional 10 miles per gallon offered by hybrid powertrains consumers have to pay an average premium of $3,300. At this rate it would take about eight years of fuel savings to break-even on this price premium."
Young buyers prefer used to new vehicles 3:1, Voorhees said, and there is limited availability of used cars with alternative powertrains.
This generation also wants a car to be stylish — something they want to be seen in.
"They can't lie awake at night dreaming about the styling of any high-efficiency vehicles that are widely available," he said.