If you've noticed more and more folks driving cars in which the steering wheel comes up higher than their heads, you are not at Goofy's Crazy Car Track at Disney World. People are driving longer in life. Almost 93 percent of those age 60 to 64 had a driver's license in 2011, up from 84 percent in 1983. That helps explain why consumers age 55 to 64 had the highest rate of vehicle purchases in 2011, while the youngest age groups had the lowest rate. Even consumers age 75 and above bought cars at a higher rate than 25-to-34-year-olds and 18- to-24-year-olds.
According to a new study by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, older boomers have now replaced the 35-to-44 year old age group as the group that purchases the most cars.
"Car manufacterers shouldn't be chasing younger people, they should be looking at older people," said Michael Sivak, author of the study. "Baby boomers are trying to extend their youth as long as they can, both in terms of taking care of their bodies and in their expenditures."
People in the know, the ones who tell us why we do what we do, believe that boomers, after noticing that their 401Ks left their bank accounts and took up residency in the bank accounts of those who benefited from banking deregulation, are now in the work force longer. As a result, they need more cars.
But this is a boring answer. A less boring one is that most boomers' parents didn't grow up with cars as their ultimate status symbol. A lot of them had to interrupt their joyriding days in order to save the world from war. And the generation that followed us cared more about fancy technology than something on four wheels.
We, on the other hand, had the car. Oh boy, did we have the car. Worshipped. Beloved. Scrubbed down and shined every week. Life in the Boomer Lane's parents couldn't afford a car, but she fondly remembers spending a lot of weekend evenings, aimlessly driving around Philadelphia in cars of friends, hitting the neighborhood spots where the kids hung out.
And then there was the Hot Shoppes (do not pronounce the "s" at the end), conveniently located just a few blocks from LBL's house. An ordinary restaurant, except for one extraordinary feature: a huge carport on one side, as big as the restaurant itself, where you could pull into a parking space, order from an intercom and have your food delivered to your car.
The Hot Shoppes became the ultimate Hangout City. It was a convention of kids and cars. For the price of a soda or an order of fries, you were set for the evening. Kids sat in cars, on cars, milled around cars. Romance blossomed and sometimes burst, while one was consuming onion rings and a Cherry Coke. It's where LBL first laid eyes on the infamous Kent Tableman. She remembers nothing else from that evening, except for the sight of him.
We had our cars. Before sex became a right, it was a secret, and the car was the ultimate no tell mo-tel. LBL will leave out the details of this part, allowing you to revisit your own Memory Lane.
We loved our cars in a way that no other generation did or does. We still love our cars, especially now that most of us have graduated from the station wagons and mini-vans that carted around our growing families. Now we once again get to have fun with cars... And getting from Pt A to Pt B is the least of it.
So what are car manufacturers doing to cater to the hot boomer market? The first thing is that they understand that boomers want smaller, sleeker cars. There are commercials that show empty nesters zooming along mountainside highways. Ford's Escape, a small SUV has become a boomer magnet since a redesign last year made it more car-like and less rugged-looking.
They also want cars that don't have excessive horsepower (looks like a sports car but doesn't drive like one), are easy to get in and out of, and have luxury features. They want to recapture the thrill of their youth, without hurtling off the road or injuring their backs, getting in and out.
Personally, LBL thinks a resurrection of places like the Hot Shoppes (sadly, now a post office) across the country would bring back the good old days. A place for boomers to hang out, show off their cars and connect with each other. And the beauty of it is that we no longer have curfews.