Baby Boomers have shaped auto industry trends over the past forty years and they will continue to be influencers. Although America may have passed “peak auto” this cohort has not peaked when it comes to Detroit. The Boomers, currently ages 52 to 70, will have a substantial effect on the types of vehicles that are produced, and provide a ready market for innovation.
The underlying reason has to do with their sheer number, and demographics. Plus, of course, aging-in -suburbia.
AN OLDER, READY MARKET
In 2020 when the first self- driving cars reach the market, the oldest Boomers will be reaching age 75. Safety and mobility issues will be high on their agenda. By 2035, when most new cars are predicted to be capable of driving themselves, the oldest Boomers will be close to 90 and the youngest will be in their 70s.
Polls show that even today, there is a surprising level of interest in the self-driving car among older people. Autonomous cars will find a ready market with Baby Boomers as they grow older or frail. In contrast to other types of innovation, it is the disenfranchised- in this case, those who cannot or should not drive, who could be innovation pioneers. A Google car spokesperson, Chris Urmson, intuited this in a recent talk.
The Boomers differ from other generations in how they think about the need for cars. For this cohort, travel by car is synonymous with independence and well being. This association might have been cultivated by 40 years of popular culture- think images of cars and the good life depicted in TV shows, movies, SuperBowl Ads, and billboards. Having access to a car will continue to be vital to aging Boomers, as the majority do not know of a different lifestyle.
CHANGING THE OWNERSHIP
Meanwhile, as the autonomous car both prequels and propels mobility, there is a second trend that the Boomers will need to assimilate. Although Boomers may be accustomed to owning or leasing their personal vehicle, they are likely to discover, and prefer, a different business model.
Rather than owning a vehicle that sits idle 96 percent of the time, Boomers and other users will transact mobility with their cell phones in order to order a trip-based vehicle. Even in the suburbs, cars might evolve into a “travel-on-demand” service. This radical change has benefits for older people, who no longer need to buy and maintain a vehicle, and bear rising insurance costs. A car-on-demand will help ensure safer travel in a state-of-the-art vehicle. And, in keeping with their reverence, the car-on-demand might turn out to be stylish and luxurious too, a vehicle that can reflect their personal tastes, as well as the more basic need to travel.
EMPTY GARAGES AND FULL TRIPS
Meanwhile, imagine the emptiness of the suburban home with its capacious two- car garage and 400 to 600 square feet of open space. Planners have begun to talk about repurposing the parking spaces that the autonomous car will free up (up to an estimated 24% of the area in U.S. cities) but they have not paid attention to the more lowly suburban garage.
Boomers have had a love affair with the car throughout their lives, and current data suggests that they are not cutting back on their driving as they age. This is the generation that has innovated with cars in many ways: they ushered in the two car family, vastly increased VMT (vehicle miles traveled), and substituted vehicles for short trips instead of on bike or foot.
As they get older, the Boomers will continue to be the generation on the forefront of automotive change. As their age and infirmities bring new mobility needs, the automotive industry (and tech firms) will find this generation to be ready first-responders.