Here’s How Nissan Will Get Millennials To Buy Cars

Nissan_IDx_Nismo
Nissan IDx Nismo concept at the 2014 NAIAS.

In 1998, America was entertaining Will Smith’s music career and taking life advice from The Dude.

It’s also the last time Nissan sold a lightweight, rear-wheel drive sports car in the U.S. There’s a chance that will change, though -- Nissan showcased the IDx Nismo concept in Detroit this week.

The IDx is small, striking and, most importantly, uses its back wheels for propulsion. Those facts, coupled with the engine possibilities (1.2L, 1.5L, officially) aims the IDx Nismo squarely at the Scion FR-S in what seems to be a suddenly crowded market (Mazda Miata, Chevrolet 130R, Kia GT4).

Let me explain why that’s a good thing.

Over the past 10 years or so, manufacturers have had trouble connecting with the “millennial” generation -- people who are usually far more interested in Facebook than cars. Despite multiple attempts from multiple manufacturers to cast economy cars as “cool” and “hip for young people,” the purchasing demographics just haven’t materialized.

Set aside the economic slump that has hit the generation, and assume the 20- to 30-year-old crowd can afford to purchase new, albeit somewhat cheap cars. Possibly their first car purchase away from their parents. What’s been out there to generate real interest, but also make a permanent mark in the minds of new consumers that cars can be fun? Make a list. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

Ready?

The Mazda Miata is now a $30K purchase. The Honda Civic Si and Mazdaspeed3 are both front-wheel drive. A good Subaru is more than $30K. And the Scion FR-S (and its sister car, the BR-Z) debuted in 2013.

Gee, and car companies wondered why my generation hasn’t been all that interested in new rides. Front-wheel drive can be fun but it’s not designed with fun as the main focus. A true performance car is rear-wheel drive (or in the case of Subaru and Mitsubishi, all-wheel drive) -- that’s the kind of car that gets young people excited about driving.

Not weird boxes and anthropomorphic hamsters.

Right now, the only cars that fit the parameters I’ve outlined are the Toyobaru twins. But a decent one will still cost at least $27K. And that’s where Nissan comes in.

The IDx Nismo is petite, and would be perfect at $22-24K. Instead of a Civic Si, Fiesta ST or Sonic RS, give those millennials a sports car they can afford. Nissan especially needs this, since the 370Z has been a flop. If the IDx Nismo takes off (which it would), it could generate renewed interest in the large Z cars.

Technically, the IDx Freestyle, a toned-down version of the IDx Nismo, is also a possible production model. We don’t know which version will go into production, but Nissan says we’ll probably only get one. According to Nissan executive VP Andy Palmer, there is still a possibility the market will see both: “Don’t say that we won’t do both, but we will definitely do one of them.”

Hopefully that means the Nismo is the one that will be built. But even if the Freestyle is the one that makes it to market first, don’t count it out -- a $19K rear-wheel drive coupe would be way cooler than any current econobox.

That’s how you get millennials into cars. And Nissan seem to realize it.

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