Our motoring choices tend to change with our life stages. We start with small, old and relatively cheap models and progress to larger, safer options to cater for growing families and other needs.
But when nests empty and our lifestyles change, our views on the ideal runabout can change as well. And were not necessarily talking about the male mid-life crisis Maserati either.
"The cliché of splashing out on a luxury sports coupé when the kids fly the nest has probably never been true in Ireland, where high motoring costs tend to lead to a more pragmatic approach," says Renault Ireland product manager Jeremy Warnock. "Also, with Irish property and childcare prices, the empty nest often happens later, and older people often spend a lot of time looking after grandchildren.
“So while older consumers may put themselves first when choosing a new car, there are often other people to consider. That said, the level of financial freedom has usually improved significantly, with our research pointing to over-55s as being the age group most likely to choose a new or nearly new car at over 70 per cent.”
Practicalities over image and substance ahead of shadow tend to be the order of the day with the more mature market segment.
“Having had the opportunity recently to talk about cars with a few older people who are in the market, a few things are striking,” says Warnock. “Ease of access is important to customers with even mild back trouble – both to the cabin and to the boot. So high driving positions are important, doors which open wide, and luggage space must be easy to access. Particularly important is having a flat boot floor with no lip at the opening – so customers can slide heavy items in and out.”
He says the Renault range of SUVs, the Captur, Kadjar and the Arkana – which launches in August – score highly on all these points, as does the all-electric ZOE which has a very SUV-like seating position thanks to the battery’s location under the floor.
“All customers are changing the type of cars they are buying,” says Volvo Car Ireland managing director David Thomas. “I would not say they are not trading down, but they are migrating to smaller SUV-type vehicles. The higher seating position is the main attraction which allows easier access to the vehicle and better visibility when driving and parking.”
“I’ve spoken to several older customers who are very environmentally conscious too and they find the ZOE very appealing thanks to its emissions-free driving,” Warnock adds.
“And of course customers of all ages love their smartphones – every model in the Renault line-up comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as a minimum, so you can bring your tunes, your messaging and your maps with you, all with handy voice controls.”
When it comes to used cars, buyers in the older age bracket tend to go for mid-sized cars, according to Darren O'Reilly, sales manager with Sandyford Motors on Dublin's southside.
“They are not in the game for SUVs and people carriers for obvious reasons,” he says. “People in that age bracket might have a few grandchildren but all they need is a child seat or two from time to time. They tend to go for a Ford Focus or a Kia Ceed or other mid-sized cars. All the manufacturers have increased the capacity and size of their vehicles over the years, so they are large enough to cater for their needs.”
It may not be all about practicality though. “People in that age category can also be in the market for a small to mid-sized Mercedes or other luxury make,” says O’Reilly. “They may have had a company car while they were working or had a car that suited family needs first. Now they want to treat themselves. Mid to larger sized BMWs such as 3 or 5 series are popular with that category as well. They want something good and reliable that’s going to last them for the next five or seven years.”
He divides the category into two segments. "The first is those on a fixed pension who are looking for something that is not expensive to run and will be reliable. Makes like Ford, Renault and VW are very popular. Then there are people who might have received a lump sum and have some cash in their pocket. They are the people who will look at treating themselves with a Mercedes or a BMW. "
And buying a used luxury car makes it more affordable.
“Anecdotally, comfort is really important,” Warnock adds. “That can mean different things for different people, though. It may be that an automatic gearbox is important, or front and rear parking sensors with reversing cameras – all features that make driving physically easier, and which are available on all models in the Renault range. Equally, comfort often relates to seats with easy access or even electric adjustment.
“We find low running costs have a strong appeal for all ages – we’re seeing rapid increases in sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric Renaults as customers realise the savings that can be achieved.
“The same applies to safety – when customers buy cars it’s usually in the knowledge that they will travel with their loved ones and will want to protect them.”
Environmental awareness is not just for generations Y and Z. “I have an in-law in his 90s who still drives regularly,” he says. “He commented to me recently that he won’t be around to see the effects of climate change, but he worries for his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He’s currently driving a hybrid and wants to go electric for his next car.
“It’s not so much about having cash to spare – total cost of ownership of hybrids and EVs is usually comparable with internal combustion engine cars, because lower running costs offset any difference in purchase price. The research we’ve commissioned tells us that over-55s are the group most likely to choose a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully-electric car.”
Lifestyle also comes into play. “Retirees have more time for golf, cycling and weekends away, so downsizing is rarely a priority,” Warnock adds. “Also, grandchildren often come into the picture as well so the full 5-seater may be needed less frequently but still often enough for that to be a requirement. Our research has over-55s as the age group most likely to choose an SUV or cross-over in the next two years.”
“Older people are going away for more weekends and engaging in leisure activities,” says O’Reilly. “But we don’t get many issues regarding space for sports equipment like golf clubs. Most car boots can take golf clubs. We hear about that more from younger people who are concerned about space for child buggies and so on. They are the ones who tend to ask about boot capacity.”
But you can’t get away from the old staples in the end. “Safety and low running costs are a factor, but for older drivers the size of the vehicle and higher seating position for comfort are important,” says Thomas.
“Reliability and economy, the overall cost of motoring, they’re the most important things for that age group,” O’Reilly adds. “They either want something that’s good value and reliable and will last them up to seven years or they want to treat themselves with something like a Mercedes or a BMW.”