Millennials carry the key to future auto retail growth: Willisch


This March marks the 100th anniversary of the BMW brand.

Despite a slew of what will undoubtedly be amazing parties in markets around the world, BMW North America chief Ludwig Willisch insists the company is more intent on planning for the next century of retail than reviewing the previous 100 years’ greatest hits.

Illustrative of this effort is the automaker’s recent work in identifying its target market of Millennials. The cohort, usually defined as those born between 1980 and 2000, continues to expand its reach and buying power every year.

It is now the largest generation in the Canadian workforce and roughly 26 per cent of the overall population (roughly 9 million).

Numbers in the U.S. given by Willisch reflect a similar picture with about 83 million American Millennials representing roughly a quarter of the country’s population.

He says BMW has been working to discover the subset of Millennials to best target and subsequently reexamining how it designs and manufacturers vehicles in response.

Often, companies make the mistake of lumping the cohort into one group and extrapolate their common wants, needs and behaviours, he says.

“That, ladies and gentleman, is a recipe for disaster.”

The automaker has identified roughly 720,000 U.S. Millennials to target.

Data yielded shows the following.

Millennials have house household incomes of $150,000 or more.

Millennials have already decided which car they are buying before going to a dealership.

They seem impervious to traditional advertising.

They get most of their info from peers and word-of-mouth, much of that through social media connections.

They have tossed out classic definitions of luxury and define it more in terms of technology than sportiness.

They wants that technology to support their lifestyle.

Willisch says the group seeks a world customized for them, where nothing should be generic or predefined.

Think of Coca Cola’s effort last year to outfit millions upon millions of cans with people’s names on it or qualifiers like Mom, Dad, sister, etc., he says.

Armed with these insights, BMW launched a three-pronged effort that includes targeted outreach, product expansion and transforming its retail environment and the shopping experience.

That outreach even stretches to non-car owners through its DriveNow carsharing program.

Its BMW I Ventures – a venture capital firm that invests in solutions focused on urban mobility needs – also works to support high potential start-ups dedicated to shaping future of global mobility.

The efforts on the retail side have been well publicized in recent years with the launch of the Future Retail corporate image program and the Product Genius program.

“Customers now spend most of their time learning about, test driving and configuring and minimal time with sales, F&I and delivery…” he says. “It addresses the unique needs and desires of a group of customers that are growing in importance and influence.”