Americans who are 50 years old and older make up 39 percent of the nation's adult population. But they will account for half of U.S. auto sales this year.
That share will increase to 53 percent by 2010, predicts Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing/Research Inc., a consulting company in Bandon, Ore.
"Everybody looks at the youth market," Spinella says. "But it's 50-plus that's going to drive the auto industry and incremental sales" for the next 10 to 15 years.
As life expectancy has increased, older drivers are a growing force in the market. CNW expects the share of vehicles bought by consumers who are 70 years old and older to rise from 5.7 percent in 2000 to 8.6 percent in 2010.
During the same period, CNW projects, the percentage of vehicle buyers in their 20s will fall from 8.1 percent to 6.2 percent.
Baby boomers, Spinella says, "still are caught up in a car-culture mentality, where a vehicle is really a primary means of defining who you are."
The challenge for automakers, Spinella says, is that there is no longer much of a market niche for an "old-people car." The Mercury Grand Marquis and Buick models previously fulfilled that role.
Today, Spinella says, many buyers in their 50s "have an SUV, maybe a sports car, a classic in the back of the garage."
"You can't guarantee that somebody in their 50s is going to buy a Camry, even though the vast majority of Camry buyers are in their 50s," Spinella says.
Lists of the 10 best-selling car brands among buyers older than 55 and those younger than 55 are remarkably similar, says R.L. Polk & Co., a research firm in Southfield, Mich. Nine brands appear on both lists.
The exception is Buick, which is No. 8 among older buyers but No. 25 among younger ones. Jeep is No. 8 on the younger buyers' top-10 list, but No. 12 for older consumers, Polk says.
Brand loyalty is plummeting, Spinella says.
Offer boomers an appealing model such as the Chrysler 300C, and "they're more than willing to jump ship and buy it," he says.
Among 300C owners, Spinella says, 70 percent had never owned a Chrysler.