Generation X: The Silent Success of Slackers in SUVs

A June 9th, 1997 TIME Magazine feature, Generation X Reconsidered, suggests the labels associated with this era are far from truthful. “They were supposed to be slackers, cynics, drifters. But don’t be fooled by their famous pose of repose,” writes Margot Hornblower. She mentions their career goals, saying Generation X favors technological start-ups, wary of the job prison they sense their parents are trapped in.

I’ve heard similar things said of Millennials, but Generation X beat them to the punch.

Susan S. LaMotte, in another TIME Magazine article suggests Generation X is overlooked in the workplace. She proposes companies evaluate their Generation X talent, especially as older employees retire and Millennials don’t have the experience yet. Self-employment is also strong with Generation X. A study by the Sage Group showed Generation X launched 55 percent of all new businesses in the United States and Canada in 2015.

Identity Crisis

Being born in 1981, I float somewhere on the cusp of Generation X and Millennial. I identify with the mindset of Generation X but find I’m uniquely Millennial in my thoughts, actions, and habits. My wandering side, an inherent characteristic of Generation X, craves something to canvass the country with. A Jeep comes to mind for whatever reason. However, my inner Millennial desires a well priced hatchback.

I have a 2015 Ford Fusion Titanium which isn’t even close to either vehicle. I’m stuck hopelessly between these two generational pillars, striving for independence and adaptability like Generation X, but itching to understand how I fit into the larger picture like a Millennial. I spend a lot of time pondering this, often joking that by the time I get it figured out, the next generation will have long surpassed me.

At least my Fusion has a sunroof.

In January, I saw the new Ford Explorer Limited at the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit. The experience proved more eye-opening than expected. I now think (convinced) I will father tiny humans with Danielle that look, act, and think (hopefully not at all) like me. The Ford Explorer Limited on display at NAIAS was gorgeous and loaded with every possible option. It’s not that I don’t like luxury SUVs, it’s just that I don’t necessitate one right now. In this aspect, I’m a Millennial, but the generational cohort ahead of me wants luxury SUVs, especially big ones.

2017 Lexus LX 570 is an example of a large premium SUV that may now attract Generation X buyers. Photo: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The 2017 Lexus LX 570 is an example of a large premium SUV that may now attract Generation X buyers. Photo: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Buying Trends

According to the Power Information Network from J.D. Power, 40 percent of large premium SUV sales went to Generation X households in 2015. That number has increased slightly for Generation X, with year-to-date segment sales coming in at 40.1 percent. The Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GL Class, and Lexus LX 570 are examples of large premium SUVs, each with a starting MSRP north of $60,000.

“Gen. Xers are in the prime of their earning years, which means they have buying power,” explained John Tews, Director of Media Relations for J.D. Power. “It’s not surprising that Gen Xers are drawn to luxury vehicles, specifically large and midsize SUVs.”

Purchasing Power

J.D. Power defines Generation X between 1965 and 1976, although the range varies, depending on the source. For example, the Pew Research Center denotes Generation X between 1965 and 1980. Still, try picturing the characters from Empire Records or Reality Bites driving an Infiniti QX80 or Lincoln Navigator. Maybe it’s not that impossible after all, seeing how we often incorrectly categorize Generation X.

“They are at a point where they can afford the vehicles they have long aspired to buy,” Tews said. “Those vehicles also meet the needs of their active lifestyles.”

Interestingly enough, even non-premium SUVs find favor with Generation X. According to MaritzCX, The Ford Explorer Sport has the highest percentage of Generation X buyers of any non-luxury SUV in the United States. Jim Mulcrone, Director of Research Services for MaritzCX, says Explorer Sport attracts nearly 40 percent of those born between 1965 and 1978.

“Ford has a very interesting customer with this product, and what’s unusual is that many are buying it without trading anything in,” he said.

2017 Ford Explorer Sport

The 2017 Ford Explorer Sport starts at $45,205. Photo: Ford Motor Company.

Comparing & Contrasting

The J.D. Power data shows a certain preference towards large premium SUVs for Generation X, but this contrasts slightly from the Ford and MaritzCX study. Mulcrone points to how the Explorer Sport is attracting those who have owned premium and luxury brands. If they do trade, Explorer Sport buyers are twice as likely as average midsize SUV buyers to trade out of a premium or luxury vehicle – 12 percent versus 6 percent, respectively.

Regardless, the data from J.D. Power, MaritzCX, and Ford agree on the purchasing ability of Generation X. The average household income for an Explorer Sport buyer is $175,000, versus $112,000 for the typical midsize SUV customer. Some feel it shows how Generation X is ahead of other cohorts.

“Peak earning years for members of Generation X are between 47 and 54 years old, and these consumers have a more practical, experiential, and family-oriented mindset than baby boomers did at this stage of life,” said Sheryl Connelly, Ford Manager of Global Trends and Futuring.

Fitting In

Where Generation X ends and Millennial begins is probably open to debate, depending on who you ask. I admire Millennials as they grind away, trying to make the world a better place. Although the incessant use of phones (guilty) and hipster pants (not guilty) makes me sarcastically wish I were born a year or two earlier. I repeatedly fend off nagging desires to upgrade my phone, hashtag everything, and shop at H&M.

Still, the overlooked slackers and grunge rockers have buying power and a good deal of it. Many automakers today offer a broad line of SUVs to meet that buying power square on. The other day, a Cadillac Escalade passed me on the way home on I-94. A moment later, a Range Rover whipped by. “Now, that’s interesting,” I thought as 4 Non Blondes started playing on Sirius XM, channel 34.

Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan. 

About The Author

Carl represents automakers in their marketing and product development arms as a Vehicle Coach, Product Specialist, and Facilitator. He has worked with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Volvo. Carl is President of Detroit Working Writers and on the Board of Directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation. He enjoys a multitude of health and fitness activities and is a loyal Detroit Lions fan.

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