The New York Times
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Carmakers Try to Figure Out the New Generation
By JACK EWING
PARIS — The digital generation is apathetic about cars. And that’s a problem for automakers.
Among car companies, which are displaying their latest products at the Paris Motor Show now under way, there is a growing recognition that young people may simply not care about cars as much as their elders. Smartphones now rival automobiles as the default symbol of adulthood, and the portals to the world beyond home and school. Electronic technology competes ever more for the younger generation’s disposable income.
As a result, in Paris automakers seem to spend more time talking about how well their cars interact with an iPhone than they do about engine performance. Connectivity is the new horsepower.
“Before we talked about steering, ride and all those elements,” said Gunnar Herrmann, vice president for quality at Ford of Europe. “You could argue those are dropping down in importance. Connectivity is getting more important.”
That means not only docks for smartphones but also technology like voice recognition to allow devices to be used while driving, or Internet radios that can stay tuned to the hometown station even when hundreds of miles away. Audi showed a concept car in Paris with onboard Wi-Fi so that passengers could remain connected while on the road.
In essence, for the generation of mobile apps, carmakers are offering app-mobiles.
“I think it’s true that the generation coming up now, who will be the car buyers for the next 20 years, are fairly unique,” said Douglas C. Speck, senior vice president for marketing and sales at Volvo. “They grew up in a world where computers and cellphones and connectivity all came together at the same time.”
Few auto executives are ready to concede that young people will not want actual cars.
“‘They like iPhones and iPods more than they like cars’ — you hear that,” said Ralf D. Speth, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, which is undergoing a renaissance due to investment from its new owner, Tata Motors of India. But, he said in an interview here, “everyone still needs to get from A to B.”
There is a consensus, though, that younger buyers will want to get from A to B in a different kind of car. It must be more stylish. Performance is still important, but it must come wrapped in technology that appears more environmentally responsible.