Incoming generations of car buyers want smaller cars than any of their predecessors.
Bigger used to be better, but gas costs and preferences shifting toward technology are driving young car buyers toward small cars — a segment typically dominated by import brands. But U.S. auto makers swiftly recognized the growing segment and are grasping for market share with both hands.
According to Polk data, Ford has increased its share of “millennial” car buyers (ages 18 to 43) faster than any other brand since 2009, the brand said.
“We are adding the EcoBoost engine and MyFord Touch to the new Fiesta because we have younger buyers switching to us for unique features such as SYNC that cannot be found on other small cars,” Ford marketing manager Amy Marentic said.
From the first half of 2009 through the first half of 2013, Ford says its share of millennial buyers rose to 12.5 percent; something it attributes largely to features like its MyFord Touch infotainment system.
Ford isn’t the only American automaker stressing small car sales. Chevrolet also announced strong sales in the segment today, saying its small and compact car sales are up 229 percent year over year.
“The opportunity this new generation represents is enormous,” said Chevrolet marketing executive Cristi Landy. “The only way for Chevrolet to deliver the products, technology and services they want most is to really listen to what is important in their lives today and help enable them to reach their full potential.”
Both brands understand the benefits of selling cars like the Fiesta and Spark, which carry razor-thin margins. The sub-compact segment will be key for both brands to generate customer loyalty after years of U.S. brands being billed as less reliable than comparable Japanese products.
Ford says nearly 33 percent of Fiesta buyers are new to the brand and that 67 percent remain with the brand after the initial purchase.
“Today’s millennials and gen Xers demand the kinds of technology features that allow them to stay connected while behind the wheel, and to fully integrate the mobile devices they depend on every day,” Marentic said.
But Ford needs to tread lightly with its touch screen technology. Problems with early versions of MyFord Touch prompted negative reviews.
Earlier this month, the company announced updates for its infotainment system designed to make it simpler and more intuitive. Past updates to MyFord Touch stirred controversy when owners learned the installation, which is carried out by inserting a USB drive into the car, required roughly an hour where the car would need to idle.