With their first baby due in May, Nicole Sokolovich and Stephen Joy have been busy: picking out names, preparing their home, and hoarding what wisdom their friends and family send their way.
On Saturday morning, the two soon-to-be parents set out from their home in Media to check another item off their list: find a new car for their growing family. They cased the floor at the Philadelphia Auto Show for roomy backseats and sterling safety ratings.
“I like the luxury features, like the little touchscreen,” said Sokolovich, 26. retreating from a Ford Explorer. “And the split seating in the backseat. It looks a little classier.”
Joy, who is 30, agreed with her assessment. “We’re not minivan people," he said.
In the age of Uber and Lyft, millennials — infamous for eschewing large purchases like homes, instead choosing to build shacks out of avocado toast — are not typically associated with car-buying.
But although they may be late to it, in part because of the Great Recession, millennials are now the No. 1 age demographic at the Philadelphia Auto Show, according to Kevin Mazzucola, the show’s executive director.
Whether they’re starting families, moving to the suburbs, or just looking for a reliable vessel for road trips, millennials — many of whom are now deep into their 20s and 30s — make up 22% of attendees.
“It’s taken them a little longer to figure out what’s going on, but it doesn’t mean they don’t like cars,” Mazzucola said.
“When they were coming out of college, things were slower [economically], but now they’re rocking and they’re starting a family and a variety of things.”
Plus, the auto show is “old school,” he said. “And they like that.”
The popular area car show opened to the public Saturday morning to begin its 10-day run through Presidents’ Day. Last year, more than 250,000 people streamed through the Convention Center, the second-largest attendance in the show’s 119-year history.
On Saturday, hundreds of people, some having driven hours to be there, were already lined up to enter near a display of Lexuses at 9 a.m. when the loudspeakers declared, “The 2020 Auto Show is now open to the public.”
A little boy used his hands to climb into the driver’s seat of a steel-gray Mazda CX-5 while, nearby, three small dogs closed their teeth on Subaru squeak toys at a penned-in adoption event. A Chevrolet salesman explained to a crowd that a Corvette’s trunk could accommodate two sets of golf clubs.
Barry Dill, 60, climbed into and curled up inside the open trunk of a Kia Sorrento, testing out the roominess of the car model his daughter was eyeing.
“I just like the experience of being able to see and feel and touch it all,” said Dill.
While scouting a souped-up Jeep for himself, Dill’s late-20s daughter was looking to upgrade from a Kia Sportage.
Car-sharing apps are great for those living in the city, said Dill, but many young people like his daughter are living in the suburbs, where they rely on cars every day.
“It’s the reality out there,” he said.
For some millennials, their time in cars was not only a necessity for getting around, but also a four-wheeled refuge from an otherwise busy life.
"Most people are busy, so they look up the fastest route and take the highway, but the back roads can be so fun,” said Andrew Webber, who is 26 and lives in a small town outside Allentown. “I like driving and being in my car because it’s time alone, when I can relax and listen to music.”
Kevin Klersy said he first fell in love with cars when he was 14, and a brother’s friend did doughnuts in the snow in a Subaru WRX. Back on the road, Klersy, now 27, said he could feel the horsepower as the sports sedan sped up.
“I didn’t know a car could do that," he said.
Taking the back roads from his home in Zionsville, Klersy attends a “Cars and Coffee” meetup every month. He bought a Honda Civic and a Subaru Impreza for himself and his wife last year, but he covets a Volkswagen GTI.
Webber owns a Chevrolet Cobalt and two Nissans, including a 1992 Camaro.