Musings about the car industry and the older consumer

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For the last couple of days I have been giving some thought to the car industry and the older consumer. This is more a brain-storm of ideas rather than an ordered analysis. Rather than file these thoughts away in the Cloud I thought I would share it with the world.

It looks as if Toyota in the US is still pursuing the Boomer market. The web site, The Roaming Boomers, has a feature about their team being invited by the car company to test drive the 2013 Venza model. Well done Toyota. Remember the ad campaign for the car that poked fun at the socially connected young.

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I was never that sure if I liked or hated this ad. The fact that I remembered it is a measure that it was successful.

According to this article, Toyota in the US, has been monitoring the needs and wants of older drivers since 1997. Impressive.

CNW Marketing Research, reckons the 10 attributes all consumers consider most important when buying a vehicle are:

  1. low monthly payments
  2. visibility
  3. quality
  4. styling
  5. manufacturer’s reputation
  6. low price versus the competition
  7. status
  8. driver ergonomics
  9. low sticker price
  10. resale value.

For Boomers, however, the order changes. Good visibility is No. 1, followed by manufacturer’s reputation, quality, styling, driver ergonomics, status, monthly payments, passenger protection, airbags and resale value. The visibility thing is SO important as older eyes find driving at night harder and simultaneously processing multiple streams of information.

When I am asked about ageing and the car industry I don’t think we can look at the subject in isolation from two other major market disturbances – the recession and urbanization.

Just look at this information from the US about the decline in car-purchase by the young.

A combination of the shift in spending power from young to old and the disproportional increase in the cost of car ownership for young people (especially insurance) plus the increased likelihood of them trying to live in urban areas will have a significant impact on the profile of car purchasing. The other factor is that more young people are forced to live at home, for longer periods, and will borrow their parent’s car.

Very few companies have got to grips with the implications of the increase in multi-generational households and how that changes purchase decisions. It will affect car purchase as much as food.

If you combine this set of circumstances with the need for older people to keep working longer and their heightened concern about using public transport, then you can see there are many reasons why the older demographic will remain important to the car industry.

The thing that has amazed me is how long it has taken the auto industry to understand the importance of the loss of mobility to the wellbeing of older people. Having to stop driving is a major lifestage event for the older person. Anything that can extend the period that older people can safely drive is immensely valuable to them and also their children. Such functionality could have premium pricing.

Nighttime driving is the first problem that older people encounter. The company that can solve this limitation will make a fortune!

Here is a bit more research from GfK about the differences in the attributes that determine car purchase decisions. (You need to click on the image to look at the full size chart)

The challenge that the auto industry has is how to portray new electronics and communications technology. 

There seems to be a hurdle to overcome for marketers not to portray car technology as ‘gizmos’ – yet more technology that older people have to understand. But, as something that can materially help the quality of their driving and their ability to drive for longer.

The other thing is that far too often (most cases) in-car technology is the same as in-flight consoles. Not designed for older eyes, fingers and minds. The same criticism can be applied to many fmcg products. In long term, maybe Siri type features will reduce the reliance on sight and finger control.

Assuming the car’s infotainment and driving assistance is designed, taking into account the physical problems encountered due to ageing – maybe using MIT’s Agnes suit or one of the other ways that designers can experience physical ageing. It is almost certain that none of the other touchpoints involved in the awareness, purchase and support processes will have been tested for the effects of ageing.

It is pointless car manufactures changing their product unless they also adapt all of the other parts of the customer journey.

I think the bottom line is that, with respect to optimising its approach to older consumers, the automobile industry is making changes – but slowly. I guess it has a lot in common with most other industries.

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