DETROIT — When it comes to brand loyalty, Generation Y, which accounts for more than 20 percent of the U.S. population, is going to make manufacturers work, according to results from a new study released by Deloitte.

Deloitte’s Automotive Sector unveiled findings of its third annual Gen Y automotive survey, titled, “Gaining Speed: Gen Y in the Driver’s Seat.” The study analyzed responses from five nationally recognized MBA programs, including UCLA, Clemson University, Columbia University, Michigan State University and Carnegie Mellon University.

By 2012, Gen Y will account for approximately 40 percent of the car-buying population and represent a new breed of confident consumers who are independent, tech-savvy, engaged, demanding and, according to Deloitte's survey, just the group to help rejuvenate the automotive industry. Conducted in collaboration with The Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University, the survey indicates that Gen Y consumers have an increasingly positive view of the industry on everything, from researching and shopping to vehicle trustworthiness.

"Our analysis of the survey findings points to technology as a key generational differentiator," said Craig Giffi, vice chairman and automotive practice leader of Deloitte LLP. "For baby boomers, technology is largely utilitarian and defined by safety features, whereas Gen Y views technology as a more personal feature. They see their cars as personal technology cocoons, and expect so-called 'cockpit technology,' where they can continue to run their lives uninterrupted, from messaging to music to the latest smart phone apps, 24/7."

The perception of the automotive industry is continuously improving among Gen Y. More than 82 percent of Gen Y consumers say they are excited to shop for a vehicle, which is especially important as enthusiasm has subsided among Gen X and baby boomer respondents with only 71.2 percent and 66.3 percent expressing the same sentiment. As reported in last year's survey, Gen Y is particularly loyal when it comes to automobile brands with 42 percent of respondents last year and 48 percent this year saying they expect to be driving the same vehicle brand in five years.

Although Gen Y consumers are loyal, they also are fairly unforgiving, with 52.4 percent of respondents agreeing with the survey statement, "A bad experience with a salesperson would cause me never to consider that brand of car again."

"One area we found very interesting is Michigan State University's analysis that the actual car shopping experience is three times more important to Gen Y than vehicle design," said Joe Vitale, who leads Deloitte's north central region automotive practice and Generation Y research program. "This shows that much like their demand for technology, the shopping experience for Gen Y must be experiential, as well as connect and integrate to their ‘personal technology cocoons’ across the evaluation, sales and post-sales cycles."

Some interesting trends emerged about Gen Y's opinions on the dealership experience and vehicle shopping. In visiting a dealership, Gen Y respondents said they are still largely unsatisfied and anxious with the overall experience, and suggest that the main reason for a dealer visit is to test drive a vehicle.

A little more than 82 percent of Gen Y respondents, up significantly from 69 percent in 2009, said they'd like to test drive a vehicle over 24 hours. The survey also revealed that more than 57 percent would prefer to avoid face-to-face interaction with a dealer altogether and work with them solely over the Internet. These findings suggest that dealers could benefit from increasing transparency with consumers by making basic product information more readily available.

Regarding shopping, an automotive company's buzz in the virtual world matters a great deal. Social media sites and blogs are increasingly becoming one of the most popular ways for Gen Y to communicate, ultimately helping to sway purchase decisions among automobiles. The research done by Gen Y shoppers is broader and deeper; with these buyers significantly more likely than older generations to use friends, Websites and blogs to gather purchase information. According to the Deloitte survey, nearly 67 percent of Gen Y respondents look for advice or information on blogs or social media forums before purchasing a vehicle, up dramatically from 25 percent in 2009.

Compared to Gen X and baby boomers, Gen Y consumers also are most likely to influence others, but are also susceptible to being influenced by their peers. Roughly 70 percent of the Gen Y respondents said they're likely to sway a friend's vehicle purchase; only 60 percent of Gen X and 50 percent of baby boomers claimed the same. In particular, Gen Y has a large amount of influence over their parents, as slightly more than 61 percent say they directly influence their parents final purchase decision.

On the flip side, 88.7 percent ask friends for their opinions about a brand or model before buying a car, and 79.6 percent of these respondents say that their friends have a big influence on their purchase decision as well. Deloitte's survey found that Gen Y consumers are very influential overall and will actively promote a brand, even if they don't buy the car.

The survey also queried respondents about the effects of recent recalls. About 67 percent of Gen Y respondents said that product recalls during the past year were of some concern, but more than 67 percent of total respondents said they would still consider buying a brand despite a recall. This is one reason why vehicle trustworthiness emerged as one of the top three most important factors for Gen Y when purchasing a car along with vehicle quality and safety. However, the survey also shows that Gen Y considers these factors part of any "base package," underscoring their desire for overall transparency and sincerity from dealers and OEMs.

"Automotive companies that can gain Gen Y's trust by providing superior vehicle safety while capitalizing on their desire for the latest technology are more likely to capture the purchasing power of this important demographic," said Vitale.