Special Report

Cars With the Oldest Buyers

483484301As the U.S. economy continues to recover, domestic car sales for 2014 are projected to come close to an all-time high. But while the auto sales have picked up, especially for luxury brands, older customers are driving much of the growth. Last year, the average American car buyer was almost 52 years old.

Some car brands are especially dependent on older buyers. While Land Rover’s average customer was just under 48 years old last year — the youngest average age among car brands reviewed — buyers of luxury brand Lincoln were the oldest in the nation, with an average age of 61 years. Based on a recent report from global information company IHS Automotive, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the cars with the oldest buyers.

Click here to see the cars with the oldest buyers

Car purchases have clearly shifted to older Americans in recent years. Unlike previous generations, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 years old are now the most likely to buy a new car, according to a recent study released by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Still, this alone does not mean younger Americans are not driving. In his recent report for IHS Automotive, automotive analyst Tom Libby, wrote that these figures “are based on the ages of the people who register the vehicles, and they are not always the same as the principal drivers.”

Cost is a primary reason why American car buyers tend to be older.  Libby explained that, to lower average buyer age, carmakers “need to have a portfolio that includes products that make [car ownership] feasible for the millennial.”

However, Karl Brauer, senior director of insights at vehicle information provider Kelley Blue Book (KBB), noted that price limits choices for older buyers as well. Elderly people often live on a fixed income, or will soon. But while many older car buyers try to limit costs, seven of the 10 most popular car makes among older Americans were luxury brands. According to Brauer, “Luxury appeals to people who have more money to spend and who want to treat themselves.” Older people are more likely to fit this description because they often have a lifetime’s worth of savings and may look to make to make an indulgent purchase.

Brand image can also affect the average age of a make’s customers. “Once you get labelled as [a brand] associated with the older buyer, you’re really in a bind with younger buyers,” KBB’s Libby said. For example, Buick, Lincoln, and Cadillac, “have a reputation of being driven by older buyers.” Similarly, Brauer told 24/7 Wall St. “no manufacturer wants to be known as the old persons’ car brand.”

Loyalty is often also often plays a role for older consumers. “Generally speaking, domestic brands and older buyers go together,” Brauer said. Older customers may fondly recall a time when American auto manufacturers were thriving. Younger buyers, conversely, have less attachment to car makes and utilize the internet to make more informed purchase decisions.

To identify the carmakers with the oldest buyers, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the average age of car buyers of 44 carmakers from “Land Rover and Dodge Appeal to the Young Automotive Buyer,” a recent report from IHS Automotive. U.S. sales data was provided by Kelley Blue Book, and additional financial figures came from the carmakers’ press releases.

These are the cars with the oldest buyers.

10. Mercedes-Benz
> Avg. age of buyer: 54.6 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 334,324
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): 13.3%

The average Mercedes-Benz customer was 54.6 years old last year, older than customers of all but nine other car makes. Like a majority of car makes with older buyers, Mercedes-Benz is a luxury brand. Older customers, who may often have more disposable income than younger consumers, likely have a greater ability to afford more expensive cars. Mercedes-Benz sales have been strong in recent years, rising every year from 2011 through 2013. Last year, the make sold more than 334,000 vehicles in the U.S., more than any other luxury car brand.

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9. Chrysler
> Avg. age of buyer: 54.7 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 302,492
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): -1.8%

While Chrysler buyers were among the nation’s oldest, they were also younger compared to previous years. The average age of a Chrysler buyer fell by 1.3 years between 2011 and last year, the only age decline for a brand on this list. Chrysler is also one of only three non-luxury makes with the oldest buyers. However, 2013 unit sales were lower than the year before, and brand’s sales were down 6% year-over year through September. Still, Chrysler’s pending merger with Italian carmaker Fiat may expand its capacity to build and market cars that attract younger buyers.

8. Smart
> Avg. age of buyer: 55.3 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 9,264
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): -7.4%

An average Smart car buyer was 55.3 years old last year, 1.5 years older than in 2011. While Smart’s customers tend to be somewhat old, the make itself is relatively new, having entered the market only in the 1990s. Current models have the smallest dimensions of any car on the market and boast exceptional gas mileage. Each models gets well over 30 miles per gallon, and its electric drive model is capable of more than 120 miles per gallon. Smart prices are also low compared to other brands popular among older Americans. The pure coupe model, for example, starts at $13,270. While sales are modest, the brand’s U.S. sales rose dramatically between 2011 and 2012, from 5,348 to more than 10,000. Last year, however, the carmaker sold 745 fewer cars than it did the year before.

7. Bentley
> Avg. age of buyer: 56.2 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 2,663
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): 17.7%

Like many other car brands popular among older drivers, British brand Bentley is a luxury car maker. In fact, Bentley is considered part of the super-luxury class of cars, which includes vehicles that can a price tag exceeding $200,000. Considering how expensive Bentleys are, it is not particularly surprising that Bentley’s target clientele may require the greater part of a lifetime to build up the necessary resources to afford one. Bentley sold 2,663 cars in the U.S. last year, up 401 from the year before.

6. Jaguar
> Avg. age of buyer: 56.6 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 16,952
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): 41.1%

Jaguar sales have grown considerably in recent years. The make sold nearly 17,000 cars in the U.S. last year, versus slightly more than 12,000 in 2012, a 41.1% increase and one of the largest sales increases nationwide. According to Kelley Blue Book’s Brauer, not only has Jaguar improved its product considerably, but it is also a classic luxury brand. Like other high-end makes reviewed, Jaguars are often quite expensive. Even the most affordable Jaguar starts at well over $50,000. Land Rover and Jaguar were combined into one company last year by their parent, Tata Motors. The average age of a Jaguar buyer, however, has changed little in recent years, remaining between 56 and 57 years old.

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5. Lexus
> Avg. age of buyer: 56.9 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 273,847
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): 12.2%

Like several cars on this list, Lexus is both a luxury brand and a popular one among older car buyers. Lexus reported a 12.2% increase in U.S. sales last year from the year before, among the higher growth rates nationwide. However, Lexus — Japanese carmaker Toyota’s (NYSE: TM) premium brand — still trailed its German competitors in terms of worldwide market share and sales. Lexus also trails its German rivals in the U.S. as well. Lexus sold less than 275,000 vehicles in America last year, while German luxury brands such as BMW and Mercedes each sold well over 300,000 units.

4. Cadillac
> Avg. age of buyer: 59.5 years (tied-3rd highest)
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 182,543
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): 21.9%

Cadillac’s aging clientele may reflect General Motors’  (NYSE: GM) recent challenges. While the younger generations may mostly remember GM’s bankruptcy, many of Cadillac’s customers likely remember a time when GM was the indisputable number one car company in America. And although the company still leads the nation in terms of market share, its position is much more tenuous. Still, Cadillac was one of the fastest growing luxury brands last year, with U.S. sales up more than 21% in 2013 versus the year before. This year, however, sales have dropped off considerably. GM recently announced it will move Cadillac’s headquarters from Detroit to New York next year, in order to distinguish the brand from its parent and establish a better rapport with luxury buyers.

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3. Bugatti
> Avg. age of buyer: 59.5 years (tied-3rd highest)
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 1
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): -50.0%

Super-car maker Bugatti’s target market is already extremely exclusive. The high age of the brand’s customer is likely less a question of preference and more an issue of accessibility. Car and Driver describes the target customer of a Bugatti Veyron, with its estimated price tag of nearly $2 million, as “those with all the money in the world and a desire to go blisteringly fast.” KBB figures indicate just one Bugatti was sold in the U.S. last year. Luxury cars often appeal to customers who have the means to treat themselves, and purchasing a Bugatti is perhaps the ultimate luxury expense.

2. Buick
> Avg. age of buyer: 60.3 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 205,509
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): 13.9%

With an average customer age of 60.3 years, Buick’s clientele is older than that of any other non-luxury vehicle. Buick has struggled more than other brands to move away from its image as an older driver’s brand. Still, Buick has been successfully improving its brand by adding cars that appeal more to younger buyers, according to Brauer. Two SUVs, the full-size Enclave and compact Encore, have done particularly well, Brauer said. Additionally, while Buick is not considered a luxury brand, its latest Regal model may provide a more affordable alternative to BMW and Mercedes-Benz sedans.

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1. Lincoln
> Avg. age of buyer: 61.0 years
> 2013 U.S. unit sales: 81,694
> Unit sales pct. chg. (2012-2013): -0.6%

Registered Lincoln buyers were older than those of any other car brand. Last year, the average age of a Lincoln owner was 61 years old. Like other domestic makes, Lincoln, Ford’s (NYSE: F) luxury brand had its heyday several decades ago, and it has struggled to compete as imported brands have successfully drawn in younger customers. The cost of a Lincoln, however, is not completely out of reach, as its prices tend to be on the lower end compared to other luxury makes. Brands like Lincoln are desperate to get younger buyers, as some of their relatively old current customers may never buy another car. Lincoln sold 81,694 vehicles last year, down slightly from 2012 levels.

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