By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

It’s sort of like American Graffiti all over again: breadwinners drive the day’s dependable cars while youth rebel by focusing on streamlined looks and speed.

Based on an online company’s auto-purchasing survey, Generation X shoppers now aged 31 to 48 are practical minded and favor vehicles with space for the kids.

In contrast, Generation Y buyers aged 13 to 30 enjoy the freedom to accessorize.

The auto industry is taking the numbers seriously, zeroing in on how they capture these faster-growing sets of consumers. For instance, the respected trade publication Automotive News last month sponsored a seminar for dealers on how to sell to Gen X and Gen Y customers.

At least one Charleston area auto dealer agrees that buyers’ preferences can differ by age. But demographic profiles can only go so far.

“There’s so many different types of buyers,” said Mark Hoover, president of Hoover Automotive. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Gen X, Y or Z,” he said.

Most shoppers come into the stores well educated on the types of vehicles they’re most interested in. With the widespread use of the Internet to get instant research and comparisons on models, “the information is available to everybody,” he said.

The bottom line at the Hoover dealership is to assess buyers’ impressions and determine precisely what the customers want. Then, whether the customer is 18 or 81, sales associates match them with the desired car or truck.

Hoover offers one new-car brand considered popular among Gen Y perusers. It’s Mitsubishi, which is known for its moderate priced Eclipse sports cars that can be tricked out and tuned up.

“I’ve seen some (buyers) spend almost as much on accessories as for the cars,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jeep is among the top 10 brands picked by Gen X shoppers, according to the 2011 survey by TrueCar.com retailer and information provider.

Hoover sells Jeep as well as new Chrysler, Dodge and Ram trucks and scores of used cars from its outlets on Savannah Highway in Charleston and in Summerville and Moncks Corner.

If there’s been a demographic change for the president, it’s that the Charleston area has become more cosmopolitan. “A lot of people are not from Charleston,” he said. ”The local (share) is getting smaller and smaller.”

Hoover also noted there are a lot of industry surveys, and it can be a minefield to believe them all.

He takes stock in a maxim reflecting buyers’ interests as a group. Price, he said, is not the top consideration for the bulk of buyers. “The main thing is the features in the car,” Hoover said.

The veteran dealer also isn’t convinced that researchers can pin down buyers’ habits long term, noting that watershed events can change their minds.

Hoover said he’s heard talk that the “Great Recession” economic downturn in 2008-09 could nudge Gen Y shoppers to be more fiscally responsible, the way that people growing up in the Depression of the 1930s became famed for their frugality.

“They might turn out to be savers,” he said.

According to the TrueCar.com study two years ago, Gen Y car seekers were most attracted to Mitsubishi and Scion. They prefer autos that can be adapted to body kits and aftermarket parts, according to the online company.

By comparison, Volkswagen is considered the top brand for Gen X purchasers, with close to 44 percent of its customers falling within the 31- to 48-year-old age group. Following VW in order are Land Rover, Audi, Mazda, Jeep, Infiniti, Acura, Nissan, Honda and Mini.

According to TrueCar.com trends and analysis vice president Jesse Toprak, “Generation X consumers prefer vehicles that fit their changing lifestyles and helped spur demand for automakers to build larger, roomier vehicles. This post-baby boomer generation has greater purchasing power and values practical luxury and safety features for their families,” he said.

Here are the most popular brands for Gen X buyers.

• Volkswagen Routan minivan.

• BMW M3 sedan.

• Honda Odyssey minivan.

• Infiniti QX56 SUV.

• Nissan Armada SUV.

• Nissan Quest minivan.

• Toyota Land Cruiser SUV.

• Toyota Sienna minivan.

• Volvo XC90 SUV.

• Chevrolet Aveo compact.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com