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Herb Palmer: Boomer generation favors advent of super cars

We are hearing quite a lot these days about the 77-million baby boomers who are expected to change the face of business and industry in the marketing of goods and services in America. Who are these remarkable people?...

We are hearing quite a lot these days about the 77-million baby boomers who are expected to change the face of business and industry in the marketing of goods and services in America. Who are these remarkable people?
If you, as an individual, reached the age of 50 in 1996, you are a baby boomer with the knowledge that every 8.4 seconds another baby boomer joins the crowd. Boomers are where the money is, and they are beginning to dominate this era of prosperity and big money in a very big way.
After scrimping and saving and investing their savings for years, many of them are now ready to enjoy the luxuries of life. And at a time when there are hundreds of billionaires and millions of millionaires all ready to enjoy the extra perks of life, especially in the area of new luxury cars, two-income boomers are now the fastest growing segment of the new car market.
Ford Motor Company has just completed a study of empty-nest boomers who purchased more than 1.2 million new vehicles in 1998. Ford predicts the same age group will buy twice as many vehicles five years from now-- or one out of every six purchased in the United States. In addition, the baby boomer generation can expect to inherit at least $5 trillion in wealth accumulated by their parents.
This all adds up to more purchasing power than ever before in history, defecting from the old standards to a new kind of cars. Beginning about 17 years ago, the boomers started looking at minivans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and they decided they wanted to have more fun with aspirational vehicles that were "highly emotive."
So in this column today, with apologies to the Budgeteer's John Gilbert, nationally recognized authority in the automotive world, we would like to comment on what's new. This new generation of boomers, once derided by their elders as the narcissistic "me generation," has done its duty of raising families and creating wealth for decades, and now, as the workaholic phase of their life begins to pass, boomers are trying to defy the aging process with hair replacement therapies, hormonal supplements and sex enhancing elixirs. So it should come as no surprise that they are trading in their blasé sedans for motorized fountains of youth. We're talking about vehicular Viagra and Rogaine for the road.
One boomer, age 46 from Santa Monica, Calif., unloaded his Mazda 929 -- "a growing up car," he sneered, and plunked down $36,000 for a silver Honda S2000, a race-car-design convertible. "I haven't reached middle life yet. I'm closer to 19," he said. "Psychologists say there are good reasons and bad reasons to buy a new car. The best reason is you can afford it, and it gives you a sense of pleasure. The unpopular reason is that it allows you to compensate for a sense of inferiority, plus my wife made me do it," he said.
Now what does this "youthful" generation want? Auto experts say they are looking for "aspirational" vehicles that are highly 'emotive systems' of the new generation. And they want to have more fun," says a Ford executive who designed the retro-looking Thunderbird that is slated to be released next spring. Like Jaguar's S-type, Daimler-Chrysler's P.T. Cruiser and Volkswagen's new Beetle, the Thunderbird takes its styling cues from bygone years to remind buyers of their youth.
Even though the P.T. Cruiser is a much more modestly priced vehicle, (under $20,000), it seems to be benefiting from boomer buying. In fact, demand is so hot that Daimler-Chrysler literally can't make enough of them and is trying to stop dealers from charging premiums as much as $10,000 over the company's suggested price. After an era of stodginess and sameness, automakers increasingly recognize that good looks make the merchandise.
Volvo is placing a new accent on performance and styling, going bumper to bumper against BMW's 5 Series with its S80. Volvo, now a unit of Ford, is also making hay with its curvaceous C70 convertible and coupe. Audi, now faced with a very real threat of elimination from the American market, has a hit with its new TT coupe and convertible. Performance also keeps getting better with its all-wheel drive Quattro that allows owners of the A Series to whip around hair-turn spins at gravity-defying speeds.
What high-end customers are demanding is not just design and performance. They want the doors to sound right when they're closed, turn indicators to make just the right "plink," and most important, engines to emit the perfect guttural roar. The features that boomers seem to demand for their ultimate car include remote keyless entry, dual control atmosphere controls with heated seats, lights that know when to go on automatically, and moisture-sensing windshield wipers that adapt to different levels of rain.
Ford is in a good position with its Navigator SUVs, Thunderbirds, Jaguars and Volvos. And let's not forget the new lines of cars that will be powered by gas-electric and all-electric systems. They are already on the market. When you drive into a service station, instead of gasoline, you will ask for a sealed can of hydrogen gas which will mix with oxygen to produce electricity as you drive along. So, you want to feel young again? Buy one of the new boomer cars.
(Editor's Note: Material for this column was obtained from an article "Boomers, start your engines," written by William J. Holstein in U.S. News and World Report.)
On the lighter side . . .
When a certain couple went to bed after watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" on TV, the husband was in an amorous mood. He asked his wife if she wanted to do something about it. She said no.
"Is that your final answer?" he asked.
"Yes."
"Well, then," the husband replied, "I think I'd like to call a friend."
-- Reader's Digest
Lars stopped by the barber for a shave and a haircut. Olaf, the barber, nicked Lars badly in the shaving process.
"Oh, Lars, I am so sorry dat I nicked yew like dat. Please fergive me! Now, vould yew like yer head wrapped in a hot towel?" he asked.
"Vell, no tanks!" snapped Lars. "I'll yust carry it under my arm."
-- Ole and Lena Jokes

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