How to Sell Cars to Generation Z

While the newest batch of car buyers actually prefer brick-and-mortar dealerships, it expects a more engaging in-person experience.

Jennifer Libin

August 20, 2018

4 Min Read
Young people in car
Unlike some of their predecessors, they want to drive and own automobiles.

Move over Millennials, Generation Z is here. Unlike some of their predecessors, they want to drive and own automobiles.

That doesn’t mean dealerships can get comfortable. Gen Z’s expectations for a retail experience are different from any we’ve seen before.

First, who is Gen Z? They were born between 1998 and the early 2000s. As a whole, the generation tends to be more individualistic and the most racially and ethnically diverse in the U.S., according to Stef Woods, a professor of American studies at American University.

This generation is the first to have grown up immersed in technology. Most won’t remember a time without Wi-Fi, Netflix, iPhones and social media.

Research shows nearly half of Gen Z consumers research and shop online using their mobile phones. Dealers must have an optimized mobile website that is responsive, includes inventory details and answers many of the questions this generation may have.

In addition to a website, dealers should embrace mobile platforms used most often by Gen Z consumers who look for relevant content, not marketing hype.

While Gen Z prefers brick-and-mortar dealerships, they expect a more engaging in-person experience.

Many retailers like Apple already have moved away from traditional shelves and registers. They have created floorspace where customers can enjoy experiences and interact with the product.

PwC says, “Generation Z customers indicate they will keep coming back to their favorite brands because of the full in-store experience.”

Engaging Dealerships

For automotive retailers, the showroom environment can be an advantage, if they raise their digital IQ and incorporate customer-facing technology into their spaces. This generation expects to use their mobile phones at the dealerships for an interactive and immersive experience. They prefer scanning a code on the vehicle to get information.

They like videos, games and entertainment. For example, a driving experience using artificial intelligence and virtual reality can take the customer on a simulated test drive anywhere in the world.

Interactive displays accessed by smartphones not only communicate in a familiar way but can customize the experience using artificial intelligence while gathering data on customer preferences.

Because technology is an integral part of who Gen Z members are, dealership salespeople should emphasize features such as in-car smartphone syncing, enhanced safety features and technology that brings convenience.


Close to 95% of Gen Z have a wide digital footprint, one that showcases their individuality and is customized to their personality and needs.

From clothing and activities to social-media profiles, Gen Z is a highly expressive group of consumers. As such, they prefer brands that allow them to show their personality and style through purchased products.

For dealerships, this means customizing and personalizing vehicles, from colors to interiors to wheels and license plates. It’s more about the look than the mechanics.


Gen Z is one of the most socially conscious generations since the 1960s. They support brands that have positive social and environmental impacts. Dealerships should display their work and engagement in the local community and their brands’ involvement nationally and even globally.

Salespeople should talk about their company’s commitment to EV and hybrid technology, and what that means for the future.

Don’t Ditch the Basics

Even though Gen Z is a new breed, it doesn’t mean salespeople should abandon the basics. A salesperson’s job still is helping the customer find the right vehicle to fit their needs, wants and desires. Provide customers with the red-carpet treatment and an experience to remember. (Industry Voices contributor and writer of this column Jennifer Libin, left)jennifer-libin.jpg

Because Gen Z’s beliefs and culture are new to most salespeople, asking the right questions and truly listening to the answers is more important than ever. Salespeople must continue to follow the dealership’s established processes before, during and after young customers’ visits to the dealership, even if they don’t purchase a vehicle.

Finally, dealerships must continue to embrace ongoing training and education to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge, insights and tools needed to succeed.

While we are still getting to know Gen Z as car consumers, it’s clear dealerships and salespeople must learn about what influences them as individuals and adapt quickly and sincerely to capture their loyalty.

Minimally, dealerships need engaging, broadly accessible information, and a strong online and on-site digital IQ to build a connection with this new generation of consumers.

Jennifer Libin is sales director at Automotive Profit Builders, a consulting firm for dealerships. She can be reached at [email protected] or (508-626-9200.

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