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Growing New Car Buying Segment? - Boomers
Friday, September 6, 2013 6:55 AM

Baby Boomers are apparently refusing to go gently into that car-buying night. The 55- to 64-year-old age group, the oldest of the Boomers, has become the cohort most likely to buy a new car, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. Graying Boomers replaced the 35- to 44-year-old age group, the most likely to buy four years ago.

The findings show that Boomers’ automotive passions, and pocketbooks, have plenty of miles left. The study also suggests that the billions the auto industry spends to woo the elusive Generation Y might generate a higher return on investment if they were aimed at their parents.

“You shouldn’t be chasing the younger people, you should be looking at the older people,” says Michael Sivak, author of the study. “Baby Boomers are trying to extend their youth as long as they can, both in terms of taking care of their bodies and in their expenditures.”

Rick Grady, vice president of Research with the Cornerstone Credit Union League, says credit unions may want to take notice, since a sizable portion of their membership is Baby Boomers.

The dicey economic times have extended the working years and peak earnings period of the 76 million Americans who were born during the post-World War II birth boom from 1946 through 1964. There’s also a strong psychological motive driving Boomers back to the dealer’s lot year after year: Their automobiles define them.

“For people who grew up and lived in the 20th century, the car was … a visible expression of you and your personality,” John Wolkonowicz, an automotive historian and former Ford Motor product planner tells BusinessWeek. “A 20-year-old doesn’t see the car the same way.”

In recent years, fewer young people are interested in driving. Just 79 percent of people between 20 and 24 had a driver’s license in 2011, compared with 92 percent in 1983, according to the Michigan study.

Conversely, the oldest Boomers are trooping down to the Department of Motor Vehicles in growing numbers to remain licensed to drive. Almost 93 percent of those aged 60 to 64 had a driver’s license in 2011, up from 84 percent in 1983.