None of us are getting any younger, but we’re still buying cars. Older drivers may have different needs than younger ones, though, which is why many auto companies are taking aging drivers into account when they design their vehicles.
“The baby boomers have always been an important segment, not only because of their numbers but also because of their affluence,” says Sheryl Connelly, global consumer trends and futuring manager for Ford Motor Company. “For them, the car has always been an iconic symbol of status.
“The baby boomers are aging, but they’re aging in a way that is also unprecedented. They’re not like their grandparents. They’re really an active segment, but there are some changes happening that come with aging such as reduced response time, impaired vision and limited range of motion.
“Our designers and engineers think about how we anticipate the needs of a rapidly aging population and what we can do to design the car so these changes don’t affect the utility and the joy of car ownership.”
Among the design and engineering tools is a “third-age suit,” a strap-on suit that restricts the user’s motions and mimics the limitations that older drivers and passengers may experience. Through experience with the suit, designers may lower the vehicle “lip” so occupants don’t have to lift their legs as high to get in and out, lower the trunk liftover so cargo can be loaded easily, or add grab handles on the pillars that can assist with entry.
Technology features that can aid drivers include rearview cameras, blind spot monitoring systems, and on some Ford vehicles, a self-parking feature that enables the vehicle to turn its wheels to easily get into a parallel parking spot. Font sizes for controls and screens are larger, and in some vehicles the instrument cluster can be customized, with more or less information available as the driver prefers.
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“Another thing we think about for baby boomers is that they’re downsizing,” Connelly says.
Many people are moving into smaller houses but still want them to be luxurious, a trend they carry over into their cars.
Boomers may be moving out of SUVs and into a more compact crossover or smaller car segment, but they want it very well-appointed, unlike in the past when small cars were “starter” vehicles for young drivers and were generally very basic.