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Over-50s still overlooked

Car manufacturers are failing to grasp the challenge of selling to a rapidly ageing population, says Peter Cooke, KPMG professor of Automotive Industries Management, Nottingham Business School.

Commenting on a new Grey-Power survey which suggests many over-50s cannot relate to car ads and TV commercials, Cooke says: “I agree with the findings, but whenever I raise this with manufacturers, they say only ‘we’re looking at it’.

“They seem to forget that the over- 50s represent the biggest segment of private car buyers.

There seem to be two main reasons: manufacturers don’t like the image created by selling to over-50s, and most car designers are young.”

Michael Cutvill, marketing director, Saga Services, adds: “Over-50s don’t want to be patronised, and we’re careful not to be ageist in our ads. They tend to be less tolerant than younger people if the message is not clear, or if the claim in the ad is not realistic.”

Millennium, a market agency specialising in the over-50s, says nearly seven in 10 people questioned in its latest GreyPower survey believed all advertising failed to present their age group in a positive way.

The survey is especially critical of car advertising because “it remains incredibly bad”. Its findings follow a similar report, published in AM in January 2003, which revealed that the over-50s believe retail sales staff to be pushy, dishonest and uncaring.

Martin Smith, Millennium managing director, says: “It isn’t just learning the buying triggers of older people. It is more a matter of having the will to change from concentrating on youth, and communication centred on young families.”

Smith says many people trade up their cars just before retirement, so as to provide safety and security, and to avoid large maintenance bills later. Despite this potential for sales, three-quarters of those questioned said they did not relate to television commercials.

The findings, based on the views of 30,000 respondents, indicate that some car manufacturers have a blind spot when it comes to selling to those approaching retirement.

Nine per cent of those asked said they would be spending £20,000 or more on their next car with 16% budgeting between £15,000 and £20,000. A further 10% were prepared to allocate £10,000-£15,000.

This suggests that approaching half of people aged 50 or more – a market estimated to total 20m people, and which accounts for two-thirds of retail sales – have at least £10,000 to spend on a car.

Smith says: “Car advertising confuses and annoys the biggest buyers of the products it tries to sell. Manufacturers cancel out each other in the mature market but when one changes tack, the rest will follow.”

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