Generation Y drivers are going to drive the move to connected cars, according to a new study from GfK launched this week at 2015 International CES in Las Vegas.

New car sales in some key markets are getting close to – or even exceeding – levels not seen since the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008. But this is mainly driven by an older demographic. To consolidate this growth, automotive manufacturers now need to encourage new car purchases among a wider age range.

Gen Y buyers are not yet very active in the new car market, but with their interest in all things tech, GfK believes their preferences are going to be critical for the future the connected car industry.

GfK ran a six-country study looking at which features of connected cars (such as entertainment, safety, behavioural tracking and so on) appeal most to certain age groups.

Across Germany, the UK and US, 46% of drivers aged up to 34 find the idea of a fully integrated in-car entertainment system “very” or “extremely” appealing.

This is more than double the percentage of drivers aged 45 and over, where less than a quarter (20%) find this concept “very” or “extremely” appealing. The picture is even more positive in the developing car markets of Brazil, Russia and China, with high appeal standing over half (55%) of those aged up to 34 and just a third (33%) of those aged 45 and over.

The upper band of Gen Y drivers – those aged 25 to 34 – are heavier drivers than other age groups. In the developed markets surveyed, they spend an average of five hours a week driving, compared to 4,6 hours for those aged 45 and over – and in the developing markets it is 6,1 hours versus 5,6 hours respectively.

Gen Y drivers also aspire to certain feelings when driving, which Connected Cars can readily tap into.

In Germany, the UK and US, drivers aged up to 34 are more likely to want to feel “proud” while driving (20%, compared to 10% of those aged 45 and over) and “excited” (13%, compared to 7% of those aged 45 and over).

These aspirations are also seen in Brazil, Russia and China, but more evenly across the age groups: 24% of both age groups want to feel “proud” while driving, while 18% of drivers aged up to 34 and 17% for those aged 45 and over want to feel “excited”.

Finally, three quarters (75%) of Gen Y drivers in the developed markets surveyed – and 79% in the developing markets – believe that they are likely to be using their own, personal car in five years’ time.

Frank Härtl, global lead for Automotive at GfK, comments: “These factors combine to make Gen Y drivers an attractive audience for Connected Cars – especially as they grow closer to the age at which people tend to become new car buyers.

“What the industry needs to do is find ways to let Gen Y drivers experience Connected Cars now – and that means outside of the direct purchase cycle – so that they discover that cars deliver the emotions of excitement and pride in a car that they aspire to.”

So how can the industry get Gen Y to experience connected cars before they are even thinking of a car purchase?

Part of the answer lies in alternative models such as car-sharing services, including pay-as-you-go car rental or hire (such as Zipcar), since GfK’s study shows that Gen Y drivers are particularly open to these. Across Germany, the UK and US, over a third (34%) of drivers up to 34 years old say they are likely to, or definitely would, consider using a pay-as-you-go service instead of owning a car. This contrasts to just 19% of those aged 35 and over.

And the appetite is even higher in the developing markets of Brazil, Russia and China. In Brazil, 40% of these younger drivers make this statement, while Russia stands at 44% and China at 64%.

Härtl adds: “By including connected cars in the growing car sharing services, the industry can give younger drivers an opportunity to discover this technology and fall in love with the experience it delivers. Current car sharing services require an interaction with technology (website booking, apps for locating/unlocking vehicles) that Gen Y consumers already enjoy – so including connected car technology in this experience will be a natural progression for them. And with this ‘foot in the door’, the industry then has an engaged audience that should drive future demand.”