With auto manufacturers soon set to roll out their 2016 model launches, we thought it was the opportune time to look closely at the Resonate 2015 research on U.S. consumers shopping for new cars and ask: What purchase drivers will spell the difference between automobile winners and losers? Is 2016 really all about the latest car technology, or are there other purchase drivers at work?

Perhaps no clearer evidence exists that the worlds of automobile manufacturing and consumer technology have converged than January’s 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, in which a record 10 car makers showcased the latest in high-tech automobile gadgetry alongside the latest in smart phones, televisions, and wearable tech. From Daimler’s electric-powered Mercedes-Benz F 015 to Volkswagen’s autopilot-equipped Passat to Hyundai’s smart-watch connected models, the next generation of cars promises to integrate seamlessly into our tech-obsessed lives like never before.

When we took a closer look at 49 million U.S. adults in the market for a new car within the next 12 months, we found that carmakers are indeed on the right track: innovation will be a watchword for 2016. Another word, however, will become equally important to auto dealers in the next year: popular. New car buyers want the latest tech—but they also want the hottest models that help them showcase their self-image.

New car buyers are a young audience: 61 percent are under age 44, with the largest age cohort in the 25-34 range. When we examined the automobile product attributes most important to this largely Millennial audience, we found that they’re unmoved by such traditional automobile attributes as Dependable, Practical, and Durable— while pluralities think they’re important, new car buyers slightly under-index on their importance when compared to the general U.S. population. Overall, this audience values Unique and Innovative products—and they over-index even more highly on these attributes in the auto sector. Interestingly, the attributes that drive their auto purchases mirror, but are more pronounced than, the attributes that drive their tech purchases. This synergy should well serve carmakers highlighting the latest automobile tech in their product launches.

Even more important to new car shoppers than automobile product innovation, however, is product popularity. In our purchase driver analysis, Popular emerges as a primary product attribute across a variety of product categories—but nowhere more highly than in automobile purchases. How, then, can we explain the seeming dichotomy between the primary product attributes of Unique and Popular? How can an automobile purchase fulfil both attributes at once?

We may find clues in an exploration of this audience’s personal values. While in some ways holders of traditional values—43 percent of new car buyers, for example, hold “Taking Care of Family” as a personal value—they don’t over-index on traditional values when compared to the general population. They do, however, over-index on “Self-Image” as a primary personal value. They also over-index on “Sense of Belonging.” They seek, then, seek an automobile purchase that stands at the intersection of self-actualization and the feeling of belonging to a tribe—a car at the nexus of Unique and Popular.


This audience also shares online: 69 percent are medium-to-heavy users of social media, and they dramatically over-index on daily usage of Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. The task for automobile marketers, therefore, is to leverage social media to build excitement for new car model launches that live at the heart of Unique, Popular, and Innovative. Highlight the technology, certainly—but remind car buyers that the technology is a means to connect them to the wider world of their peers.