The huge success of scrambler bikes show a way for car firms to connect with sought-after younger buyers
For better or for worse, I am part of generation Y. You know, the generation that apparently puts avocado sandwiches and flat whites ahead of car ownership and saving for a mortgage. But in all seriousness, for a generation seen as anti-automobile, plenty of us love writing about cars. A large proportion of the Haymarket Automotive team – including more than half of the Autocar news desk – is made up of writers that are under 30 years of age.
Which puts us in a unique position. When we’re not in the office assessing cars (that in reality, we can’t afford to buy), we’re on launches listening to PR’s telling us how they’ve finally solved the puzzle that’s been bewildering every automaker from Munich to Martorell – namely, how to sell cars to millennials like us.
Every manufacturer at one time or another thinks they have it cracked. Toyota tried it in America with Scion, offering buyers’ unique body styles and bold colours at a low price point. In the end it turned out that these easily modifiable econoboxes were more popular with retirees than young buyers. And the same cycle seems to be taking place in Europe. In its marketing materials, Citroën genuinely uses the words ‘fresh’ and ‘stance’ to describe its new C3 Aircross. Now, I’m not entirely sure when ‘fresh’ was last present in most people’s lexicons, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in this decade.
And yet, manufacturers keep at it with their focus group based advertising and then scratch their heads when each new model fails to land. Oh, and for a bit of perspective here, on almost every launch Seat’s PR team can’t wait to wax lyrical about how the company has the youngest buyers in Europe and one of the highest conquest rates. Want to hazard a guess at the median age? Mid-twenties, early thirties? Ok, low forties? Nope, forty-two! Forty-two years of age. In the Victorian era you’d be considered a living miracle.
Which got me thinking. Perhaps car manufacturers could learn something from the bike industry? An industry that has recently been saved by the unlikeliest of automotive enthusiasts: motorcycle-riding hipsters. You know, those skinny-jean-wearing, craft-beer-sipping, beard-growing folk. And before you accuse me of going off the rails, let me explain.
Often viewed as the bane of the motorcycling scene, more likely to be found drinking a flat white at The Bike Shed than actually out on the open road, it’s these 21st century yuppies that are responsible for the resurgence of one of the greatest sub-genres in biking. The scrambler.
It was only a few years ago that the motorcycling sector was on its leather clad bottom. Bike sales were down massively, the average age of a rider was somewhere in the early hundreds and virtually zero teenagers were taking their bike test (I should know, I was one of the few). Until, that is, Triumph came in and revolutionised the market by reviving the scrambler name back in 2006.
Since then, the Scrambler and custom bike scene has rocketed, with younger riders eager to get in on the action (David Beckham’s Triumph backed Amazon adventure certainly helped give things a kick) and now almost every mainstream manufacturer has a bike that can fulfil your wildest Steve McQueen fantasies: BMW with its R nineT Scrambler, Triumph with the Street Scrambler, and Ducati with the inventively named ‘Icon Scrambler’, which is now Ducati’s bes- selling bike.
These bikes, which are relatively affordable, customisable and individualistic, have whole Instagram pages and magazines dedicated to them. There’s an entire lifestyle element associated with the trend, which doesn’t feel fabricated or forced. It’s no wonder that these bikes have inspired a wave of new younger riders as well as those returning to biking after a hiatus.
Which brings us back to the four-wheeled world, and the age-old question of what do millennials want? Well, taking lessons learned from the bike sector, I would argue that manufacturers need to build something that we actually yearn to own. Something that is relatively affordable, timeless in design and yet modern and forward thinking. Something a bit like a four-wheeled Ducati Scrambler. And as of yet, only one manufacturer has got close. Honda.
Yep, I’m serious. Honda, a manufacturer renowned for its Japanese sensibilities, may well have stumbled upon gold when it penned the Urban EV Concept. Released at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Urban EV Concept manages to strike that perfect balance between quirky retro style and modern motoring. I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of a modern electric powertrain wrapped up in the body of any 1970s Civic? It even has rear-hinged doors for crying out loud. It’s ruddy marvellous.
Honda has recently confirmed that a production version of the Urban EV Concept will be made in 2019 – with the first cars hitting the road in Europe before Japan. If the price is right, performance is somewhat Tesla-like, and Honda embraces the strong aftermarket scene, the big H may be the first manufacturer to conquer generation Y. I for one can’t wait to find out.
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