Boomer Wheels Month: The World’s 3rd Largest Auto Market

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Bienvenue à Paris: it’s auto show time again

eiffel-towerExcitement is building in advance of the 2016/2017 auto show season kickoff in Paris (October 1-16).

Rotating annually with the Frankfurt Auto Show, the Mondial de l’Automobile attracts auto makers worldwide to showcase an incredible array of style and innovation.

As the third largest new car market in Europe, France is well-qualified to host the show: according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), almost two million new vehicles are sold there each year.

Also, although little known in the US, French brands Renault and Peugeot are the #2 and #3 best-selling nameplates in Europe behind Volkswagen. Here are the three leading EU nations in 2015 new vehicle registrations.

  • Germany: 3.2 million
  • United Kingdom: 2.6 million
  • France: 1.9 million

These are pretty impressive numbers – manufacturers compete so fiercely because, in these three markets alone, an extra share point is worth over 70,000 units.

Celebrating in the world’s 3rd largest car market

2015-auto-sales_us-boomers-germany-france-ukIn solidarity with the joie de vivre across the pond, we observe September as Boomer Wheels Month.

It’s appropriate because Americans age 50-plus bought about as many new passenger cars, SUVs, pickups and minivans as France, Germany and the UK combined in 2015

Wow, that’s a lot of vehicles!

So many that if the U.S. 50+ demographic was a country it be the world’s third largest automotive market; only China and the US itself are bigger.

One would think automakers and their ad agencies would be fighting one another for our business.

Don’t hold your breath.

frankenstein-turns-50Madison Avenue has decreed buyers over fifty to be unworthy of active targeting. Apparently, as we shuffle out of the 18-49 demo, we’re easy to get without trying, too old to change our ways and too wizened to use in ads because younger buyers run for the nearest safe space at the sight of crow’s feet.

OK, we can’t deny the wrinkles – though we prefer “character lines” – but easy to get and incapable of change are just plain nutty! There, we said it; oh yeah, that felt good.

In reality, Boomers have been embracing constant change for decades; we invented the modern world and we never stopped adapting. And when it came to passenger vehicles, Boomers turned the American automotive market upside down. For starters, we …

  • ted-of-bill-and-tedDemolished Detroit domination: in 1970 the Big Three sold 85% of all new light duty vehicles – in 2015 they were down to 45%.
  • Rocketed trucks, vans and SUVs to a 57% market share in 2015, up from 15% in 1970 when they were strictly for work – spartan, masculine, rough and down-market.
  • Scorned our parents’ all-American concept of luxury: in 2015 combined Cadillac and Lincoln deliveries were about half (56%) of 1990 levels while total Mercedes, BMW and Lexus sales increased by over 400% in the same  period.


As if all this wasn’t enough, Boomers also welcomed smaller cars, were able to wrap our heads around the concept of “foreign” cars that are actually made in America and got the alternate fuel segment up and running as the early adopters of EVs and hybrids.

All this – in adland’s quirky world-view – comes to a screeching halt at midnight on our 50th birthday, a millstone milestone that some eight million Gen Xers will have passed by the end of 2016 as they join Boomer car buyers in exile.

13-new-cars-in-a-lifetimeDo you have the appetite for one final auto statistic?

Of course you do. We know you live for this stuff, so here’s a doozie:

Quoting data from Strategic Vision, a recent Video Advertising Bureau whitepaper reports “of an average of 13 new cars purchased in a lifetime, 7 of those are purchased after age 50.”

Connecting with the world’s 3rd largest automobile market

We’re sure that most automakers and ad agencies know the awesome metrics of the 50+ buyer space. C’mon, 7.6 million new vehicle buyers are hard to miss.

Their epic failure to address this mega-market makes no sense – but it is based in comfortable excuses with deep roots.

First, is the herd instinct: as long as no disruptive brand breaks away to steal sales from complacent competitors, marketers follow the safe, familiar path established years ago by – confession time – then hot-shot young Boomer Mad Men.

Secondly, making authentic connections with older consumers is super-challenging. Most ad agency creative departments have a median age around thirty and only 5-10% of all advertising, marketing and PR professionals are over 50 themselves – so most brands don’t know how to speak to the 50+ space except in awkward stereotypes.

toast-after-fifty_mommy-and-sweetieThe easy out: dump Boomers from overt targeting, avoid “old” people in ads unless it’s a celebrity spokesperson and pretend brands can engage everyone with so-called age-agnostic advertising.

Sadly, there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception.

Increasing market share in the world’s third largest auto market requires addressing it directly and in its own socio-cultural generational languages. This means hard work, open minds and expert coaching – not simply to avoid gaffes and goofs, but to build authentic engagement. Boomers have been advertised to all their lives – they know inauthenticity when they see it.

And it’s well worth the effort to get things right: remember, Americans over fifty buy as many new cars each year as France, Germany and the UK combined. Zut alors! Ach du Lieber! Blimey!

If there’s an automaker out there that could handle the strain of winning an extra share point or two, say 75,000-150,000 units, just honk – nous parlons Boomer-speak.


Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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