Why Americans 50-Plus are the Engine of EV Success

Frankfurt Motor Show spotlights EVs as the future. Again. 

The reassuring news from September’s Frankfurt Motor Show – the first major auto expo on the 2019-2020 circuit – is that electric vehicles are still “the future.”

Thrilling new concepts wowed auto journalists and bloggers, typically hedged by caveats that these BEV bombshells are not really scheduled for production or that Americans will not be able to buy one.

Too bad. Audi’s Trail Quattro is gonzo to the max.

Meanwhile, automakers fight for sales and profits by pumping out as many ICE models as the market will bear – around 98% of US auto sales in 2019.

This is not to minimize the future of EVs for personal mobility. Forecasters say they could approach 30% to 40% of the US market by 2040.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (NEF), is even more optimistic, suggesting electrics  may hit 57% that year.

Where the rubber hits the real road

We wish there was as much excitement about the 120 million Americans aged 50-plus who represent the world’s 3rd largest economy after the US itself and China. They already buy over half the new cars, trucks and SUVs sold in the US – as many, in fact, as Germany, France and the UK combined.

Amazingly, auto advertisers routinely ignore this incredible audience in favor of 20/30 somethings: while the Boomers’ kids may be handy for tech assistance and a ton of fun to hang out with, the 18-34 cohort represents only 16% of US new vehicle expenditures.

Still, Madison Avenue is convinced that “old” people, yearning to be 25 again, crave ads starring ingenue influencers du jour and that the young can be coaxed out of old beaters they can barely afford now to blow the down payment on their starter home on glitzy new wheels instead.

Witness the strategy behind Cadillac’s decision to launch its new CT4 sedan on Instagram; “the CT4 target customer is 25-35 years old with high engagement on social media” (MediaPost).

Boomer / neXt adviser and author, David Allan Van Nostrand recently revisited the writings of Ad Contrarian (Bob Hoffman) 0n the topic and offers the following take:

There is an irresistible urge for marketers to target young people despite convincing evidence that older people have far more money, are far easier to reach, and all-in-all, make better customers.

The rationale for always showing young people in ads is the stale canard that older people want to be like younger people. In fact, studies show that half of older people tune out ads pitched to young people and a third actively tune out products whose ads are directed to younger people.

The worst and most pervasive rationale for targeting young people is the notion that if you get them while they’re young, you will have them for life. This is the idiotic “lifetime value” argument.

In addition to all this, Adland persists in the bizarre delusion that consumers over 50 no longer adapt, plod along with familiar products and are the kiss of death to brand image.

Winning against the current

When Croatian-born genius Nikola Tesla came to America in 1884 to pitch his ideas for transmitting electricity via alternating current, Thomas Edison, THE expert of the era, told him he was crazy.

After a more creative competitor, George Westinghouse, bought nutty Nik’s patents, AC became the world’s power grid standard.

Like Westinghouse, Elon Musk knew a good thing when he saw it, buying into, then controlling the Tesla electric car company. He may be eccentric and a clickbait magnet, but crazy he is not. In 2018 Tesla became the #1 domestic premium brand with sales of 182,400 versus Cadillac (154,702) and Lincoln (103,587).

Amazingly, at least to the herd, around half of Elon’s e-rockets – 90,000 – went to Boomers and older Gen Xers. You know, the people who are too ancient to adapt and too toxic to target: median buyer ages were 54 for the S, 52 for the X and 46 for Model 3 (The Hedges Company).

So far, EVs have been picking off the low-hanging fruit. According to IHS Markit almost half (47%) of 2018 US plug-in EV sales went to California, where stringent regulations, affluent enthusiasts and highly paid young Silicon Valley techies – too career-savvy to commute to Google, Twitter or Facebook in an F250 King Ranch diesel – fuel the fervor.

But for truly mainstream-scale sales, the importance of older EV prospects out beyond the California bubble cannot be overstated.

From imports to SUVs to the lowly cupholder, Boomers and Gen Xers pioneered every major US auto industry disruption; they pined for EVs in the 70s, leased the EV1 in the 90s and dropped $100K a copy for Tesla’s sportscar in the 00s.

And since they are already responsible for 55% of US new passenger vehicle expenditures, by what stretch of the imagination could they not also be vital to the success of mass-market electric models?

More to the point, how can brands conquest future EV sales in an arena they barely understand or dare associate with?

Cracking the authenticity code in the 50+ space

Obviously, auto brands and their super-smart ad agencies are well aware of the huge market beyond the 18-49 demo, but they are boxed in by uncomfortable realities.

Advertising is a youth-oriented industry; the median age of employees is 38. Less than 10% survive past 50. Not to seem curmudgeonly, but it is extremely difficult for 30-year-olds to think, feel and emote like people who have transitioned through several life-stages they have yet to encounter.

So, most flounder with Boomers and older Gen Xers, lacking fluency in their secret silent language, a complex dialect formed by decades of hidden socio-cultural imprinting of which the speakers themselves are largely unaware. Yet it is a code which, unseen, still drives brand destinies today.

Boomer / neXt does not create advertising or design products but our expert seminars, workshops and reports guide brand decision-makers to greater insight and innovation in the 50+ space. Contact us to cross the chasm ahead of the competition.

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