A career in the auto industry is still as rewarding and challenging as always. As in any "profession," it requires an investment of time, money and a certain amount of inherited skills - not everyone is cut out to be a brain surgeon either. If a young person is focused and they have sufficient people skills with the work ethic to put their customer's interests ahead of their own then my advice is to say - "What, are you crazy! If you sell cars you are dead to me!"
If they persist past that initial qualifier, then support them since they have passed the first requirement of being a professional auto salesperson. A salesperson in any field must be able to put up with rejection, be focused on the long term goal of success and have the strength of conviction to succeed in any chosen career - including the car business.
Once they have passed the personality test it is your job to list the "courses" that they should take in the college of life which should mirror those that they may be missing if they bypass the State University to acquire their education. They still need to take courses in Physchology, Mathematics, Computer Science, Marketing, Public Relations, Sociology, Business, Accounting and other Art Sciences to round out their personality and social/people skills, however, they can start making a living while they are learning. All of these subjects are being taught by forward thinking auto dealeships that have in-house training centers supported by factory certification programs and who support their staff by sending them to industry seminars and conferences like the 7th Digital Dealer Conference, J.D. Powers Conference, the N.A.D.A. Convention and dozens of other online webinars sponsored by/through Automotive News and industry organizations like S.A.S.; to name a few!
One new set of courses that has been added to the curriculum since I started my career/education in the auto business - way back in 1975 selling Hondas - is in the Computer, Internet and technology sector. People are still part of the process and all of the basic sciences are applied in using computers, the Internet and the developing technologies that tie them together. However, the consolidating auto industry that may have popped into your mind when your son/daughter asked if it was still a good career choice suggests that there are new efficiencies needed to be successful that didn't exist for previous generations.
Reduced sales volumes and margins coupled with expanded access to information that allows customers to bypass auto dealerships and salespeople to gather the information that they need to select a dealership, salesperson and vehicle - in that order - demand that tomorrow's salespeople will need more efficient tools to net a profit and make a living. I started my sales career with a yellow pad, a calculator and an appointment calendar selling 25-35 cars per month to earn a six figure annual income. Today I run a national network of 19 affiliated automotive advertising agencies and production partners representing 340+ auto dealerships and a growing number of technology vendors, an auto industry social networking site with a dedicated blog talk radio station, a "network of networkers" social networking site linking a number of similar online automotive communities, a Commercial Real Estate group specializing in auto dealership acquisition and disposition and I speak at Dealer 20 Groups, Industry Conferences and Northwood University; and I do it all from a Blackberry and a laptop! Oh yeah, and as far as my annual income - let's just say that I make more money in a quarter than most brain surgeons do in a year, but I invested the 12 plus years that they spent in school learning how to serve my customers and sell cars.
The answer to your kid's question about embarking on a career in the auto industry should still be - "What, are you crazy - over my dead body!" - but that should be followed with your advice to treat it like any other profession. Tell them to hone their people skills and focus on the technology that will fuel the auto industry into the next generation and then sign them up to DrivingSales.Com so they can listen and learn from the experts.
After all, what are friends for!