What Will Baby Boomers Drive?

The Dodge Challenger is popular among nostalgic Baby Boomers.

The Dodge Challenger is popular among nostalgic Baby Boomers.

The oldest Baby Boomers are either calling it a career or planning to retire soon. Does that mean U.S. roads will soon be choked with folks who've decided to spend their golden years driving huge sedans 20 mph below the speed limit in the passing lane?

It may seem predictable that Boomers reaching their golden years will clean out a spot in the garage for a large, American-made sedan, but statistics say that's not necessarily true.

While some aging Boomers will certainly choose to tool around in cars traditionally associated with older age, others will drive a diverse group of cars ranging from the Toyota Avalon sedan to the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster, the Porsche 911 coupe to the Chevy Corvette convertible.

In fact, experts who follow the auto industry say crossovers are the real up-and-comers.

"The crossover segment is exploding," said Gary Lang, corporate manager of product planning for Toyota. "We saw this coming years ago. It's what both the younger and older consumer is buying. If you don't tow or go off-road — and most don't — a car-based crossover is better in every way than a truck or truck-based SUV."

Experts also say the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger are can't-miss favorites among Boomers intent on reliving their youth — who have money to spend now that they didn't have then.

While they haven't hit the market yet, plug-in hybrids that can travel 40 miles or more before needing a recharge are also high on Boomers' want list, mostly because they represent the newest technology and will be offered in limited numbers, thus guaranteeing that "Hey, look at me" reaction.

Which cars are already the most popular among Boomers? The answer depends on who you ask.

George Pipas, a sales analyst for Ford, says the most popular vehicles among Boomers are the top sellers industry-wide, because "Boomers represent a large and disproportionate number of sales, and [they] are the ones who have the money to spend."

At more than 70 million strong, Boomers as a group do buy the most vehicles: Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla, Dodge Ram, Honda Civic, Chevy Impala, Nissan Altima and Honda CR-V.

CNW Marketing Research, which specializes in why people buy the cars they do, compiles a list of best-sellers among that older set of Boomers, based both on brand and on individual model. When it comes to make, the brands whose largest percentage of buyers are Boomers are Jaguar, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Cadillac, Acura, Toyota, Audi, Lexus, Porsche, Buick and Chrysler.

In contrast, Mazda buyers are the youngest, followed closely by Toyota's Scion nameplate. Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Lotus, Ferrari and Maserati have a high percentage of Boomer buyers, but they represent extremely low sales.

"It's safe to say the higher the age, the bigger the sedan," Lang said. "Mature buyers go for larger sedans and youth don't. It's also true that, for Boomers, image is more important than the car itself."

Part of what creates that image is showing that Boomers have money and are ready to spend it.

"Boomers buy cars to look younger and reward themselves, because they have the money to reward themselves," said Tom Libby, J.D. Power's senior director of industry analysis. "They buy a high percentage of luxury and sports cars."

© Cars.com 07/1/2012