Chen Jiawei and Lin Jinghan were quick off the mark when buying new cars this year. They went to a dealership once and a week later inked purchase agreements.

Chen, who was born in 1990 and works as an assistant accounts manager in a commercial bank, bought a Mercedes-Benz C200 L sedan a few months back.

“Before visiting the dealership, I had already decided what brand and model I wanted to buy,” he said. “I checked some of the detailed specs with the dealership staff, but it didn’t take me long to make a final decision.”

Lin, who was born in 1992 and works as a senior analyst for an autoparts company, bought a Dongfeng Honda Civic sedan in June.

“My communication with the car dealership went well, so I decided to make a quick decision,” he explained. “I was familiar with the vehicle because of the recommendation of a friend.”

Chen and Lin are symbolic of the young generation of car buyers. Unlike the older generation, they are more concerned about vehicle efficiency and digital gadgetry. And they are impatient to take ownership once a decision is made.

A recent J.D. Power’s survey of 24,625 new car buyers in China found purchasers were the youngest ever measured. Some 57 percent are 33 years or younger.

The survey also showed consumers who born in the 1980s or later account for 81 percent of the total number of respondents.

“Youth is the important trend in the Chinese auto market,” said Ann Xie, senior research director of J.D. Power China. “The trend portends a change in selling and services tactics. For young consumers, a vehicle is not an asset but a consumer commodity.”

The young are not only interested in the appearance of a vehicle but also in its Internet intelligence, online services, driving pleasure and individuality. Car dealers need to understand these preferences if they want to succeed in this changing market.

Liu Le, a sales manager who works in a dealership of Shanghai-based automaker SAIC Motor Co, said young consumers crave sporty, streamlined models.

Internet-connected features also play an important role in their decision-making, he said. The young generation wants a vehicle that can connect online with navigation aids, positioning, shopping and their mobile phones.

“Young car buyers especially want interconnection between their cars and their phones,” Liu said. “They want to be able to turn on air conditioning and unlock the vehicle via a mobile app. They can also check the overall status of the vehicle through apps. We take the time to help young consumers learn how to use these features.”

Budget factor

Jacob George, vice president and general manager of J.D. Power Asia Pacific, said young consumers are good at making smart, wise purchase decisions, which means looking for the best-performing cars within their budget.

“Understanding a potential buyer’s budget is as important as understanding what they want in a vehicle,” he said.

The survey also revealed the speed at which young people can make decisions. It found 54 percent of them will make a decision within one week, much more quickly than older buyers.

Liu said most of his clients typically visit the showroom about three times.

“In general, the whole decision-making process takes one to two months, but young car buyers take less time,” he said. “They also care about when the vehicle can be delivered.”

Dealers aside, young car buyers are digitally savvy and do a lot of their vehicle research online. Chen and Lin said it took them less than a month to review and compare car models.

Young buyers are also more impatient about delivery times and often base decisions on test drives. According to the survey, when a test drive exceeds 30 minutes, the satisfaction rate drops. That’s a sharp contrast to older generations, whose satisfaction rate remains relatively stable no matter how long a test drive lasts.

Car dealers need to become more adept at tapping a range of digital communications channels to entice the young into showrooms.

“I would definitely welcome digital services provided by car dealers,” said Tong Liying, who is a student at Tongji University. “I would like information on vehicle configuration so I can compare prices online.”

Young consumers also want less paperwork and dealership sales staff that can answer their questions. Some dealerships are recruiting younger employees who are more adept at talking with young buyers.

“When I visit a dealership, I pay attention to the sales person,” Chen said. “I certainly expect the staff to understand my needs and give me reasonable advice about vehicles. Sometimes, that interaction is a deciding factor in whether I return to the dealer.”

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