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How old people became the future of the U.S. auto industry

August 13, 2015
American seniors have never been healthier or wealthier. At the same time, cars have never been crammed with more features to safeguard drivers with fuzzier vision, slower reactions, and stiffer necks. 
Those forces have created a powerful economic engine for car manufacturers. This might just be the first time ever that one of the most promising demographics for the auto industry is represented by Social Security recipients. 
The roads in America are going gray. From 2003 to 2013, the number of licensed drivers over the age of 65 surged by 8.2 million, a 29 percent increase, according to U.S. Census data. The very old were particularly stubborn about pulling over for good.
There now are about 3.5 million U.S. drivers over 84, a staggering 43 percent increase over a decade ago.
On the other end of the age spectrum, teenagers no longer have the income or inclination to own a car. Over that same 10-year period, the ranks of drivers under age 20 declined by 3 percent.
Not only are seniors staying on the road longer, they also aren’t coasting into the sunset in clunkers. In the past five years, the number of new cars registered to households with a head age 65 or older has risen 65 percent, according to IHS Inc., an auto industry analyst. 
Drivers over the age of 75, meanwhile, registered about six times as many new cars as those age 18 to 24. The children may well be the future, but the fogies have the cash. And they want to use it before it’s too late.
Ben Winter, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ vice president for product planning, calls these customers "the matures." They tend to like minivans for schlepping the grandchildren and large sedans such as the company’s Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. "We don’t ignore any group ever. But some of the metrics are fairly compelling," Winter said. "I’d say we’re talking about this group much more than we used to."
They’re also increasingly spendthrift. CarGurus, an online shopping platform based in Boston, said the No. 1 vehicle searched by senior citizens on its site in recent years is the Chevrolet Corvette. 
"These folks seem to have really gourmet tastes in cars these days," says CarGurus editor Steve Halloran. "They just aren’t looking at bargain-basement stuff."