If millennials are leading the tech startups, baby boomers continue to be the movers of the auto industry. If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you likely consider your first car as one of your most prized possessions. Former Ford and Chrysler executive Lee Iacocca recounted in his autobiography how the driving generation shaped the car industry. “Millions of teenagers born in the baby boom that followed World War II…would account for at least half the huge increase in car sales that was predicted for the entire industry during the next ten years,” he wrote.
This demographic, whether in North America, Japan or Southeast Asia, witnessed economic prosperity after the war. Nothing symbolized affluence, style and freedom more than the automobile. Sheryl Connelly, in-house futurist for Ford Motor Company, said that cars are an important marker for the boomers. “It was romanticized with independence, an opening gateway to freedom and an extension of effort, work ethic, and aspirations,” she added. They had a Mustang or a Pontiac from their first job, or a Volkswagen Beetle for those who chose the hippie lifestyle. During their families’ formative years, the minivan was both functional and appealing. Then, the SUVs came, which as Connelly described, “fell under the umbrella of ‘no boundaries, no limitations’.”
Retired but mobile
Now that boomers are in their 50s to 70s, carmakers are introducing innovations that adapt to their reduced flexibility and demand for continued, if not increased, mobility. They’re older and likely experiencing weakened ability to grip the steering wheel and press pedals, but refuse to be sedentary. Ford’s Connelly added that baby boomers are shifting to second careers and traveling. “They are also simplifying, but want what they want in a different way. They are very involved in their grandchildren’s lives,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
According to a recent Zipcar study, about 90% of those who are no longer working are “seeking to boost their cultural experiences, with easy access to a variety of restaurants, shops and fitness facilities.”
Safety innovations and self-driving autos
Today’s car trends include enhanced safety features. Toyota’s 2018 C-HR features forward-sensing radar technology and a smart camera to help detect the speed and distance of other vehicles on the road. To avoid accidents, this SUV is designed with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection that scans the road ahead for another vehicle or a pedestrian. Ford’s 2018 Ecosport features the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with cross-traffic alert to detect a vehicle in your blind spot. To aid in driving on challenging terrains, this newest SUV is designed with the Ford AdvanceTrac that helps improve driving control on different surfaces including steep slopes.
Autonomous cars are another response to the boomers’ changing needs. Edmunds’ auto analyst Jessica Caldwell said that the baby boomer car would drive itself to give the driving generation increased freedom.
Car owners and tech enthusiasts were shown the latest auto trends in CES 2018 which included autonomous cars. Computing and AI company NVIDIA showcased the NVIDIA Drive Xavier a powerful processor designed to handle self-driving cars. It “delivers 30 trillion operations per second while consuming just 30 watts.” NVIDIA also presented the DRIVE AR (augmented reality) that allows the autonomous car to recognize its surroundings including points of interest and immediate dangers. Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and BMW are setting the course towards this innovative driving experience.
Customer service on-the-go
In this age of connectivity, car makers are pressed to address consumers’ demand for responsive customer service. Fewer people wait on phone queue systems with digital channels offering instant help. This applies to both baby boomers and millennials. In fact, the latest data reveal that 8 million 50-plus Americans browse the Internet to gather information about buying cars each month. However, Autodeal’s car buying experience study suggests that more than a third of car buyers are lost to competitors because of failure to maintain any degree of communication. A significant amount of business is wasted due to “an inability to stay in contact and nurture leads to fruition.”
Some carmakers are stepping up their game by developing customer service apps that disseminate information on new offers and special deals and offer customer support on-the-go. BMW’s remote control app allows users to lock and unlock their cars, locate it in a parking lot, and control interior temperature via a smartphone. Audi’s MMI Connect App enables users to send geo-coded photos from their smartphone to the car’s navigation system. The photos are stored and can be used as reference in the future without having to enter the address again.
Baby boomers will continue to shape the auto industry. It’s up to carmakers and tech innovators to deliver this generation’s insatiable for mobility.
Aby League is a qualitative researcher and a passionate writer. She writes mostly about technology, marketing, health, and psychology. You can follow her at @abyleague