Millennials can’t buy enough of these used cars

September 9, 2015, 9:21 PM UTC
Fans of Breaking Bad may have shed a tear when Walter White unloaded his Pontiac Aztek with the oft-broken windshield onto his mechanic for $50. Walt wasn't fond of the proto-crossover's misbegotten combination of SUV, minivan, and camping trailer. It didn't help that his was blemished by a faded paint job and missing alloy wheel. Was Walt a typical owner of the Aztek, often voted one of the ugliest vehicles of all time, leading to its premature and unlamented death? Or are there fans out there who harbor contrary opinions and root for the underdog? As often happens with idiosyncratic vehicles with short production runs, the Aztek has developed a cult following. A quick Google search turns up plenty of aficionados. GM didn't sell many of the homely vans, but the people who bought them, love them. Throughout automotive history, there have been many autos that launched poorly only to get better late in their lives. Or they simply failed to match the national mood at the time but otherwise offered reliable transportation with a touch of style. Underappreciated during their day, they are deserving of notice now. Here are my nominees:
Courtesy of AMC

The Pontiac Aztek—often cited as one of the ugliest cars of all time—is having a comeback even though the midsized crossover hasn’t been in production since 2005. The culprit: shoppers age 18 to 34, otherwise known as millennials.

The Pontiac Aztek renaissance, which has been partially driven by the popularity of AMC’s Breaking Bad series, marks a larger car buying trend among the young buyers. Millennials want used, out-of-production, and family friendly vehicles, according to an analysis released Wednesday by car buying platform Edmunds.

Edmunds analyzed registration data provided by research firm Polk of every used car model purchased over the last five years to identify the share of model’s sales to these young car shoppers.

The Dodge Magnum, a station wagon that was produced until the 2008 model year, has a higher rate of millennial buyers than any other vehicle on the used car market, according to Edmunds. The Chrysler Pacifica, a luxury midsized SUV that went out of production after the 2008 model year, has the second largest share of millennial buyers. Meanwhile, the Aztek has maintained a top-10 millennial share in four of the last five years.

In all, six of the 10 used models with the highest rates of millennial buyers are no longer produced.

The entire top 10 list of model sales to millennials (the industry average is 16.8% share):

    1. Dodge Magnum — 27.6% share
    2. Chrysler Pacifica — 27.3% share
    3. Subaru WRX — 26.4% share
    4. Chevrolet TrailBlazer — 25.9% share
    5. Volkswagen R32 — 25.7% share
    6. Pontiac Aztek — 25.5% share
    7. Nissan GT-R — 25.4% share
    8. Saturn Outlook — 25.3% share
    9. Dodge Durango — 24.8% share
    10. Lexus IS F — 24.7% share


While Breaking Bad may have spurred the Aztek’s unexpected comeback, analyst Jeremy Acevedo argues that practicality is driving most of these sales.

“They may not go into the shopping process targeting these lesser-known vehicles, but when they see how their price tags stack up against other, better-known vehicles, they suddenly become a lot more attractive,” Acevedo says. “When it comes to used cars, value and utility appear to trump just about anything else for many millennial buyers.”

The findings are in line with two previous reports by Edmunds that discovered millennials are thrifty—to a point.

For example, a July report found millennials are opting to lease more luxurious, tech-forward cars than they could otherwise afford to buy. Millennials’ leasing rate outpaces the total population in every one of Edmunds’ 24 vehicle segments except for compact cars.

This doesn’t mean millennials are living beyond their means. They are technically staying within their budgets.

A survey of millennials conducted in June by Edmunds and Morpace Inc. found that 57% of respondents said they’re willing to put no more than $2,999 down on a new car purchase, and 54.9% said they’re willing to pay no more than $299 per month. Using those figures, shoppers who finance their purchase are limited to vehicles priced under $20,000. However, shoppers who are willing to lease can use the same upfront and monthly budget toward a vehicle prices as high as $35,000.