Kids tend to buy a Ford if their parents drive one

"In theory, these findings could change the way automakers price and market their cars," says economist Soren Anderson. (Credit: John W./Flickr)

Automakers may want to pay closer attention to the influence parents have on their children’s car-buying habits.

New research suggests children are 39 percent more likely to buy a particular brand of automobile if their parents bought that brand.

This surprisingly strong correlation could have implications for automakers’ marketing efforts. In absence of this inherited brand loyalty, a sensible strategy might be to “invest in young consumers and harvest old consumers”–that is, lower prices on entry-level vehicles to attract young people and then raise prices on higher-end vehicles once they’re hooked on the brand.

But if young buyers are coming to auto showrooms already loyal to a brand, thanks to their parents, manufacturers might consider upping prices on entry-level vehicles. Conversely, more incentives could be offered on sport utility vehicles and other high-end vehicles to snag more older customers–and, eventually, their children.

“In theory, these findings could change the way automakers price and market their cars,” says Michigan State University economist Soren Anderson.

It’s all about the brand

The researchers studied the national survey responses related to auto ownership of more than 4,300 adult children matched to nearly 2,600 parents. Survey data from the families were collected every two years from 1999 to 2011.


Preferences were broken down into auto brands that include General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda.

Parents and children tend to share characteristics–such as making similar amounts of money and living in the same area–and this can influence what they buy. Anderson says the study took this into account by controlling for where people live, along with income, age, education, gender, and family size.

“Is this really about the cars or could it be other factors, like parents and children tending to be more similar to each other than other people?” Anderson says. “We’re pretty sure it has something to do with the cars themselves.”

The study will appear in the Journal of Industrial Economics.

Anderson’s co-authors are Ryan Kellogg from the University of Michigan, Ashley Langer from the University of Arizona, and James Sallee from the University of Chicago.

Source: Michigan State University