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Executive Summary Essay

College students are important target market by virtue of the sheer size of the population and their potential as relatively higher-income consumers upon graduation. The automotive industry must therefore engage in learning students’ preferences and appeal to them with the aim of securing sales and creating brand loyalty. This study investigates some key characteristics of college students as consumers and offers insights into their needs, wants, priorities, preferences and value perceptions.

The sample used in our survey (n=100) had a mean age of 22.5 (SD=1.5), 58% of which were males. Car ownership history was rather skewed, with an average of 2.1 cars previously owned by the time of the survey, even though the biggest group owned only one car so far. Not surprisingly, age is a strong predictor of car ownership history, with a positive correlation of (.5) between age and number of cars owned. Most of the cars (52%) were purchased via dealerships or through online car advertisements (26%).   

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The average student commutes about 500 miles per month, a finding that may suggest considerable interest in operating expenses such as fuel consumption and tire life expectancy. Most students surveyed estimate their current fuel consumption at about 20 miles to the gallon. Reliability, fuel consumption and price were found to be the key decision-making criteria in this budget-concerned population. Given similar costs, most students would prefer buying a used foreign car. It cannot be ruled out, however, that the preference towards foreign cars are influenced by the latter’s image as more reliable than domestic cars.

Cost of financing is another predominant contributor to young purchasers. Most students seem to use financing schemes to purchase cars, with a monthly cap of $300 to determine the affordability of financing scheme. The average payment was found to be $250 per month. We found a negative (-.4) correlation between the age of cars and current monthly payment.

Furthermore, our data suggests a myriad of insights into non-monetary preferences. Firstly, red was found to be the most desirable color, by a wide margin from other colors offered. Secondly, trucks are the most desirable type of vehicle, albeit most respondents indicate trucks as a favorable car for their next purchase rather than as their current car. As for their current cars, students tend to be more satisfied with the car the more it is a vital means of transportation for them; we found a positive (.39) correlation between students’ need for private transportation and their satisfaction with the vehicle they currently own.

Finally, our findings may suggest rather surprising insights into preferences beyond reliability and basic costs. GPS systems seem quite unimportant for them (scoring an average of 5 out of 10 on an importance scale), possibly due to the prevalence of GPS embedded in contemporary smartphones. Similarly, rims are even less important to this consumer group, scoring 4/10 on average, with even lower perceived importance among women. On sharp contrast, sound systems were found to be significantly important (mean 6.7, mode 8), a finding which may encourage car marketers to leverage this feature as a key source of product differentiation in this target market.

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