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America's youth still wants to own cars: Survey

After years of struggling to attract young car buyers, Chevy and Ford may be on the cusp of winning over America's youngest generation.

A new survey by AutoTrader and Kelley Blue Book has found that Generation Z, which it defines as Americans ages 17 and younger, are interested in two of the country's oldest and most recognized auto brands. More importantly, these young buyers appear to have a greater desire to get their driver's license and buy a new vehicle than millennials did at that age.

young drivers
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"This survey shows we can remain optimistic about car sales in the future," said Isabelle Helms, vice president of research and market intelligence for Cox Automotive, the parent company of AutoTrader and Kelley Blue Book.

The survey of 3,140 people, including 1,193 members of Gen Z, found that the youngest respondents have far different views about the auto industry than millennials did as teenagers. The study defines millennials as adults ages 18 to 34.

This is the first time AutoTrader and Kelley Blue Book have conducted a survey about Gen Z. AutoTrader did a similar survey about millennial behaviors three years ago.

Key findings from the latest survey:

  • 97 percent of Gen Z plans to get a driver's license. Though the survey does not have a comparison figure, Helms said separate research has shown that when millennials came of age, they delayed getting their licenses;
  • Gen Z respondents listed Chevy, Ford and Honda as the brands they find most desirable. By comparison, Helms said millennials put luxury auto brands such as Audi and BMW at the top of their wish lists when they were teenagers;
  • 33 percent of Gen Z respondents said they would rather have a car for a year than a cellphone.

Admittedly, the Great Recession kept many millennials from having the financial wherewithal to buy a new car or truck. Helms said that generation has faced several hurdles, including the struggle to find a job and mounting college debt.

Those issues, combined with plunging demand for new vehicles and the rising popularity of car-sharing services, had many auto executives wondering if the American tradition of teenagers wanting their own car had come to an end.

According to Helms, this survey shows the desire to drive is still there.

"Gen Z knows ride sharing and car sharing are growing, and they want those options," she said. "But these people also have a desire to buy their own car or truck."

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.