Millennials have become quite the hot commodity, haven’t they? Once considered the ideal candidate for economy subcompacts and inexpensive sports cars, this freshly minted demographic of increasingly wealthier young men and women has morphed into a massive market for automakers to pander to, a challenge that has proven to be just as rewarding as it is risky.
As a Millennial male, with a plethora of friends who also belong to the same demographic, I understand why automakers want to corner us as consumers. I also fully understand the reasons why we tend to push back when mainstream marketing tries to brainwash us into buying shit we don’t want, and this is especially true when it comes to cars. We are not the same car buyers our fathers once were, decades ago, when mid-range muscle cars, European luxury sedans, Plymouth Voyagers, Jeep Wagoneers, and off-road trucks were the vehicles being forced upon young fathers and uninhibited bachelors. It was a time when parenthood dictated utilitarianism over style, and wealth-laden bachelorhood meant either European opulence or American muscle. They bought what was being sold, and many of these guys found themselves easily cajoled into cars that, in retrospect, were complete crap.
But times change, as do young male car buyers, and as we accept the torches our fathers have shouldered since the 1980s, a question begins to tread toward the automotive foreground: What does the next generation of automobile buyer want in a luxury car?
It is a laughably simple question, but as I emphasized in a previous article, many of us are getting to a point in our lives when we can buy swankier sedans with things like diamond-stitched Chesterfield leather seats. Yet, at the same time, we want long-term reliability, abhor maintenance headaches, and will research and test drive cars for months before settling on one. We are one seriously fickle group of conusmers, and we are large enough in number that we can be viewed as a gold mine for whoever can appeal to our oh-so particular preferences.
Nowhere is this battle more apparent than in the auto industry, where luxury automakers are scrambling to realign a full sweep of marketing campaigns in order to attract our attention, and it looks like Lexus may be ready to lead the way. Long perceived as a company that makes reliable, refined, and risk-free cars for buyers who prefer their luxury sedans to border on boring, the guys over behind the big “L” are now looking toward the next generation of luxury buyers. Change is in the air: For Lexus, that means starting with the letter “F” and ending with the word “Sport.”
You may recall that back in the spring I drove and reviewed the Lexus NX 200t F Sport and absolutely loved it for what it offered, both in the fun and functional departments. Turbocharged, all-wheel drive awesomeness, sporting adaptive dampers, and enough aggressive angles to turn even Picasso on, this first stab at boosted automobiles for the Japanese giant has proven to be a huge hit. Even the new IS200t that I drove on the track now has a snail attached to it.
But fresh powerplants and clever suspension aren’t everything. As we all know, the Millennial male likes aggressive lines to go with all of that track-ready performance, with a healthy slathering of tech and refinement thrown in to keep luxury cars attractive as well. This makes complete sense too because, for many of us, our cars are an outward extension of ourselves. So if you are the kind of guy who commutes a lot or considers his vehicle to be little more than a swanky second office, pay very close attention, because Lexus has been watching, waiting, and listening.
I recently had the privilege of attending a Lexus media event in Raleigh, North Carolina, where members of the automotive journalism society were granted early access to the redesigned RX350 and RX450H, both of which now come in F Sport trim. During the accompanying press conference, there were stats galore on the cars, and boatloads of reasons they had been designed that way. But it was “Dealer Education Administrator” Doug Herbert who had my attention when he said Lexus was focusing on Millennial males with this longtime “girly” automobile.
Herbert says Lexus has been conducting massive group studies regarding what Millennial males want in a car, and in the process, the automaker has unearthed a few key findings in regards to Gen Y buyers. Soft lines are out; we want hard edges like the ones seen above, with large air ducts, lower air dams, and tapered flushmount trunk spoilers. Dual port exhausts are in, and we like them to be stylish and noticeable, but not obnoxiously noisy. Borrowing heavily from supercars like the LFA means that steering components are now race-inspired, and we dig that feel behind the wheel. Specialized, interchangeable alloys, low profile tires, aluminum race pedals, unique seats, and sci-fi gauge pods all are on the it-list, and for the first time in company history, Lexus is gearing cars like its RX crossover toward males. With a design theme that is being referred to as “seductive strength” and a balls-to-the-wall driver-oriented performance feel to back it up, there is little doubt that Lexus is going about this the right way, and having driven most of these new offerings, I can attest to this fact.
By offering us things like G-force digital read outs, wheel torque tracking displays, and race-ready suspension, steering, and ECUs, Lexus has become extremely appealing to guys who would never have considered one a few years back. We have the disposable income but still value reliability and sensibility, all while preferring to take the long way home because it takes us through the twisting roads in the gorge. We are a fun-loving, energetic, experience-driven group of guys who value performance just as much as opulence. If someone can make a tech-laden family car look aggressive to boot, well, now you’ve got a grocery-getter that doesn’t suck to drive and isn’t an embarrassment to be seen in. Lexus is on to something, and if you want to find out more, stay tuned for my full review on the completely redesigned RX, because good lord, was it full of surprises.