Representing the largest American generation since the Baby Boomers of the ’50s and ’60s, Gen Y consumers — born between 1977 and 1994 — account for 28% of the American population, and, as they mature, are beginning to have a significant impact on US new-vehicle sales, a new J D Power study claims.

The study examines the demographic landscape of Gen Y, including buying habits, family structure, income levels and vehicle purchasing preferences.

Today, many Gen Y consumers are purchasing their first new vehicle and almost 10% of households headed by a Gen Y consumer will buy new vehicles, accounting for roughly 700,000 new vehicle purchases — about 60% of which are the consumer’s first new vehicle purchase.

“Our research indicates that Gen Y consumers are style-conscious, less loyal to domestic brands, and seek vehicles with ‘fun to drive’ characteristics,” said a JD Power spokesman.

Gen Y consumers are less interested in larger vehicles and more interested in lower transaction prices and manual transmissions than consumers from other generations.

The study also shows that within the car industry, perceptions about Gen Y consumers do not always match reality. For example, Gen Y consumers are less interested than older generations in environmentally friendly vehicles, even though they are more interested in fuel economy and operating costs.

The study predicts that Gen Y households will out-number Gen X households within 10 years. Today, Gen Y members are the head of only 6% of the total households in the United States but that is expected to rapidly increase to 22% by 2010, while households headed by Gen X will remain at 17% of the total over the same period.

“The impressions made on these new households by their first vehicles will stick with them for a lifetime,” the spokesman claimed.

“Automakers have already begun to factor Gen Y consumers into their strategic planning. Toyota with the Scion brand and Honda with the Element are two examples of automakers designing their products for the youngest generation of American vehicle buyers.”