Baby-Boom Generation More Relevant to the Auto Industry Than Ever


  • Baby Boomer Drivers Picture

    Baby Boomer Drivers Picture

    Baby Boomers are shaping up to be the key to the auto industry's success, a new study says. | May 31, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • Automotive marketing efforts should concentrate on buyers 55 to 64 years of age, says a University of Michigan study.
  • Baby Boomers are the age group most likely to purchase a new vehicle, according to recent data.
  • Boomers have increased as a percentage of the market, while Gen Xers have declined, and those aged 18 to 24 are least likely to make a purchase.

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Don't count the Baby Boomers out just yet. A new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows that automotive marketing campaigns should target buyers 55 to 64 years of age for the best chance of success.

That runs counter to traditional ad-think, which generally focuses on a slightly younger demographic. But the researchers say spending habits are changing. Data shows that in 2007 those most likely to buy a new vehicle in the U.S. were between 35 and 44, but by 2011 that had shifted to the older age group.

Those least likely to buy a new vehicle were the 18- to 24-year-olds, who were 15 times less likely to make a purchase than those 55 to 64 years of age.

The study posits two reasons for the change. First, despite the rebound in auto sales, they're still below the industry peak in 2000. The economy hasn't completely recovered yet, and the effect seems to be most pronounced among younger consumers.

The second reason for the shift, according to the study, is the continuing decline in the number of younger licensed drivers. In 1983, 91.8 percent of people aged 20 to 24 had a license, but by 2011 that figure had dropped to 79.7 percent.

Interestingly, among the Boomer group, the number of licensed drivers actually showed an increase in that same time period — 83.8 percent in 1983 compared to 92.7 percent in 2011.

Marketers considering Generation X as their prime customers should think twice as well. The study found that people aged 35 to 44, while perhaps driving as much as ever, are in less of a buying mood. They accounted for 29 percent of vehicle purchases in 2007 but only 22 percent in 2011.

Boomers bought 23 percent of new vehicles in 2011, an increase from 18 percent in 2007, and the upward trend is likely to continue, the study concluded.

"The emphasis on this relatively older age group is further supported by the expected continuation of the graying of the general population and the consequent continuation of the increase in the number of older licensed drivers," the study said.

Edmunds says: Maybe it's time to bring back your father's Oldsmobile.

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