Online Help to Pick a Car and Make the Down Payment
When Lindsay Frandsen thought about registering for gifts for her wedding, she realized that what she and her husband really needed was a car.
Ms. Frandsen and her husband, Christian Burris, opened an account with a start-up company that lets potential car buyers reach out to their social networks for gifts.
One year later, the couple had scraped together a down payment from their savings and the gifts from the registry. Hyundai also gave them a $500 credit for taking part in the program.
“We got a good chunk toward our down payment,” Ms. Frandsen, a 26-year-old driving instructor from Atlanta, said without being specific. “It’s like 500 free dollars, basically.”
While automakers and dealers lament that younger buyers have neither money nor brand loyalty when it comes to buying a car, a host of services are looking to the crowd to help them save for what could be the biggest purchase they will make for several years.
Geared toward first-time buyers, these services, like BoostUp, a Detroit-based company that Ms. Frandsen and Mr. Burris used, are trying to turn car-buying into a social experience.
Toyota and Google, for example, are announcing on Wednesday the Toyota Collaborator, a social car shopping tool where potential Corolla buyers can discuss decisions with friends and family in real time using Google Hangouts.
The Collaborator website allows those in the conversation to customize the vehicle’s exterior color, interior fabric and textures, wheels, transmission and features, including moon roofs and fog lights. After choosing the car’s features, users can take a virtual drive down their own block using Google Street View.
Users can also ask questions of Toyota dealers, schedule a test drive and check whether the car they have customized is in stock. The program is starting with a handful of dealers in San Francisco.
For Toyota, the aim is to be where younger shoppers hang out: online, in Google’s virtual hangout service.
The Corolla “skews very much to a younger audience that relies much more on input from friends and family than experts and brands,” said Kimberley Gardiner, Toyota’s director of digital marketing strategy.
“The goal is certainly to get folks in their 20s and 30s,” she said.
If the Collaborator is successful, Toyota plans to introduce a similar program for another vehicle next spring.
Analysts say that younger buyers are losing interest in buying cars, preferring to live in cities where public transportation is available or to use vehicle-sharing services like Zipcar and Uber.
“Automakers and dealers are going to have to identify new ways to engage these customers and deliver a showroom experience that enhances the process for shopping for a vehicle,” said Joe Vitale, global automotive leader at Deloitte & Touche.
Deloitte’s most recent study showed that shopping for the vehicle was three times as important as its design.
“They expect their automotive shopping experience to be on a par with their retail and technology experiences,” Mr. Vitale said.
Chrysler’s Dodge brand introduced the industry’s first in-house crowdfunding program, Dodgedartregistry.com, in January. Friends and family can contribute to a potential buyer’s Dart fund by sponsoring different parts of the vehicle, like the engine, the heated seats or even the antenna. Users are encouraged to customize their vehicles and then use Facebook and Twitter to announce their goal and solicit donations and gifts.
“You’re trying to break through the clutter and get noticed,” said Melissa Garlick, head of Dodge brand advertising, adding that it was also less expensive than buying television ads.
BoostUp, which is backed by the former Chrysler chief executive Tom LaSorda, helps consumers save money for a down payment and rewards them with matching funds — up to a certain amount — when they buy a car. Users can set a public goal and then collect donations and birthday, holiday and graduation gifts through their BoostUp account, which is similar to a Facebook page, according to its founder, John Morgan.
The company, which says it has more than 30,000 users for car registries, has partnered with Hyundai and 185 dealerships in 35 states. Mr. Morgan said BoostUp would announce more partnerships with automakers next year. The company earns marketing fees from its automaker partners and monthly fees from local dealerships that advertise on the site, as well as the interest accrued on user funds, which it uses to pay its bank fees.
The model works because “there’s a higher conversion rate when consumers are willing to put money toward a purchase,” Mr. Morgan said.
About two-thirds of the site’s users are under 35.
It also helps automakers, who can target their incentives to specific regions to move slow-selling vehicles off the lot, like the Hyundai Accent in the Northeast.
Ryan Deisenroth, 27, of Novi, Mich., created a BoostUp account after a friend bought a Hyundai using the match.
Mr. Deisenroth, who oversees the automotive claims unit for an insurance company, contributed $100 of his own money and received $80 as a gift from his parents toward his car. But saving to replace his ailing Pontiac G6 is difficult, with student loans to pay and a wedding next year.
He hopes to save $5,000 in the next three months so that he can buy a Hyundai. “It’s the match that convinced me to look at Hyundai,” he said. “I don’t have much brand loyalty, I guess.”
Younger buyers are living in a more crowded market than their parents, according to Rick Wainschel, vice president for automotive insights at AutoTrader.com. With more options available, they consider more brands, sometimes doubling the number of vehicles they are considering by the time they make a decision.
“The world that they’ve grown up in isn’t nearly as simple as their parents’,” Mr. Wainschel said. “Now, Kia and Hyundai are players, and the Big Three make good sedans.”