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Three Out of Five Parents Involve Kids in Car-Buying Decisions

Study Finds Backseat Buyers Can Drive Purchase Considerations

By Published on . 1

Automakers advertise almost exclusively with drivers in mind.

That could be a mistake.

Adults may buy and drive the vehicles, but their children -- sophisticated teens and tweens who know a few things about fuel economy, styling and automotive entertainment -- have input when the family gathers in the dealer's showroom.

And that input doesn't go unheeded or unappreciated. Three out of five parents saod that they take the kids' opinions, and their preferences, seriously.

Those findings are based on a survey of 1,299 parents and 760 children conducted by the Family Room, a marketing and branding company based in Norwalk, Conn. Automakers overall response to his firm's findings has been negligible, said CEO George Carey.

"There isn't one portion of one automaker's website that I consider being family-oriented," said Mr. Carey. "It's almost as if the automakers are embarrassed to go there."

It's not that some aren't trying.

In a 2010 campaign designed by Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, for Toyota's Sienna minivan, "Swagger Wagon" was a branding effort that incorporated hip-hop, kids and their parents. The videos went viral.

At Lexus, Toyota's high-end line, brand General Manager Mark Templin visited the homes of seven families across the U.S. to talk about their experiences with the cars.

"We discovered some adults let their kids pick out the luxury cars that they buy," Mr. Templin said. Nancy Hubbell, a Lexus spokeswoman, said that "it was like a focus group with wine."

For example, the Johns (two adults and four children 6 to 15) of Darien, Conn., said they'd narrowed their SUV choices to Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Volvo XC90 and Chevrolet Traverse. Mom Kari wanted the Traverse for the "captain" seats in the second row. But the kids liked the Volvo's high seating position and the storage cubby holes. Kari said that since the kids would spend so much time in the vehicle, their opinions were important. The Volvo it was.

In the family setting, youth wields some clout, said Mr. Carey. "Kids can simply have veto power. ... They can say, 'Over my dead body!' and that can be enough for dad to say, 'Fine, we'll try a different option.' A car is ... a ubiquitous part of a child's life. ... So parents say, 'I just can't ignore my kids on this, there has to be some common ground.' "

Mr. Carey said that his study showed that 57% of parents now involve their kids in a car-buying choice, vs. 38% in a 2009 study. He ascribes the attitude shift to factors beyond a democratic ethos within the family unit. "It has to do with a level of guilt," he said. "Parents feel less present in their kids' lives because they both have to work to make ends meet. And ... parents realize their kids have a more keen sense of style and awareness of cultural trends."

According to the Family Room survey, kids' favorites are Jeeps, Chevrolets and Fords -- in that order. But Toyota's is the brand most respondents own.

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