Chasing youth

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Tom Healy, partner at J.D. Power & Associates, believes Detroit is shunning mature consumers who buy most of its new cars, SUVs and light trucks. Though 18- to 24-year-olds represent 13% of adults, they buy 6% of new cars; 35- to 54-year-olds in contrast represent 40% of adults but buy 48% of the new cars on the market, according to J.D. Power.

Yet, auto marketers like Toyota Motor Corp., with its new Scion, are chasing youthful buyers. "[Automakers] specifically are not targeting the older consumer-even with brands that are popular with older consumers," said Mr. Healy. "If [they] have a car that has an older median age, the tendency is to get rid of [it]."

In the late 1990s, General Motors Corp. eliminated several traditional full-size sedans with bench seats and column shifters that appealed to older buyers so plants could meet rising truck and sport utility demand. GM ditched its Buick Roadmaster, Chevrolet Caprice and Oldsmobile Ninety Eight in 1997 and the Oldsmobile Eighty Eight during the 1999 model year. The average buyer of an Olds Ninety Eight, for example, was 67; more than 40% of buyers were retired. Cadillac last month ceased production of its large El Dorado coupe after nearly 50 years.

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