Hey Car Companies, What About The Old Fogeys?

By Peter Dushenski @carenvy

Upwardly mobile. Trendy. Hip. Urban. Chic. Unconventional. Oy vey!

Every press release you read these days, at least those in the car industry, uses this nauseating marketing-speak to drum up enthusiasm for the latest 5-door hatchback. It’s not just talk either – the cars themselves are fitted with the latest gadgets and aggressive styling to stir excitement in otherwise blasé young adults. In fact, if it’s not aimed at me specifically, the consummate mid-twenties urban professional, it’s apparently not worth building.

Yet there seems to be a disconnect. Folks my age either can’t afford a new car, don’t see the value in it when used cars are so reliable, or would rather travel than make car payments. My demographic has been unequivocally shaped by the last four years of economic uncertainty. When you could be jobless next week, a big payment is the last thing you’re looking for. The fine folks at TTAC, specifically fellow Canuck and in-house youth Derek Kreindler, are all over the Generation Why dilemma, but car companies still don’t seem to get it. Derek has dissected at length the economic barriers to new car ownership for young people, but industry has its fingers in its ears. In-car tech is getting more intrusive and is being packaged with learning curves too steep for those born before the Kennedy Administration.

Now, statistics are coming out that the elderly, particularly those in the 70+ bracket, are spending more time on the road than ever before. The Economist recently pointed out that this growing segment is also likely to be more affluent than their grandchildren’s generation. Shocking, I know. Due to this greater wealth and likely due to their growing up with cars of mediocre reliability, older drivers are also more likely to buy new than used.

While it would bring me no personal benefit for automakers to shift their focus towards our forefathers and foremothers, it may benefit the automakers by realizing new market opportunities. They’ll have to make their vehicles easier to get in to and out of, make all technology invisible, and improve visibility with the use of lightweight materials. If they can accomplish that, they’ll find more elderly buyers in their showrooms. Perhaps even my 83-year-old Grandpa, Bert, pictured above with my late Grandma, Bianca.

[Photo credit: author, taken in Romania, 2006]

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