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Why Won't Anyone Make a "Jitterbug Car?"

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Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.
Topics:  Buick

Why Won't Anyone Make a "Jitterbug Car?"

Bill Crittenden
June 24, 2015


If you watch late night news, you've probably seen the commercials for the Jitterbug cellular telephone. If not, I'll just say it's made especially for older people, with large buttons, simple functions, and a built-in single-button emergency call function that works like LifeCall (remember those "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials?).

In the automobile world, nothing I've seen quite came as close to this as the mid-2000's Buicks. Classic styling, simple and large buttoned controls, automatic transmissions, a soft ride, easy steering, and a huge speedometer, many with no tach. It was a perfect car for older drivers.

And General Motors hated that.

Buick has lately been chasing a younger market, but when everybody is chasing the younger buyer, and Buick isn't doing so very successfully (ranking with the second oldest buyers at 60.3 years of age in a 2014 list), it begs the question: why even try?

For the record, Lincoln had the oldest buyers in that survey at 61.0 years.

That doesn't sound so terribly off the mark when you also find out that the overall market's average buyer age was 52 and the youngest of the brands surveyed had an average of 48 years old (Land Rover). It's not like the difference is 60 years old vs. 25 years old.

But those numbers make you wonder why any automakers chase youth. The market as a whole caters to younger buyers, particularly Scion, a brand specifically created to scare old people away from budget Toyotas after the subcompact Echo got a reputation as "grandma's car."

Buick tries to appear new and fresh, especially with its current ads showing buyers confused over the new Buick style, with one old lady yelling "that's not a Buick!" But honestly, the new styling is so close to the old that the only people who can't recognize a new Buick as a Buick are probably too blind to drive and not in the market for a car.

With the average buyer age as a whole a few years past a half-century, why doesn't any carmaker embrace the older buyer?

Take a browse through the satellite TV channels and you're bound to see ads for any number of products designed for older people. Fred Thompson and his reverse mortgage commercials, the aforementioned LifeCall and more modern LifeAlert commercials, any number of medications (especially the Cialis ads).

A car company could and should do the same.

I know I'm picking on Buick, but Buick is probably in the best position to do so, since it already has the reputation and their closest rival, Mercury, is gone. Buick is kind of an "extra" brand between the everyman Chevrolet and the luxury Cadillac. General Motors can afford to risk the Buick brand without damaging its core business or coming up with the expenses of creating a new marque. Buick already has the reputation as an old man's car, and marketing it to youth is swimming against a strong current of preexisting brand perception. And Buick embracing older drivers would be a modification of the old Chevrolet-Pontiac-Buick-Olds-Cadillac economic progression buyers were expected to make in the past, where each brand complimented each other rather than competing with each other.

So, c'mon Buick. Drop the act, embrace your old soul, and maybe even hire Betty White or Fred Thompson for the commercials. Most importantly, create a soft and simplified driving experience free of touchscreens and submenus that features big buttons in places older drivers would expect to find them. A large digital speedometer readout that can be easily seen by the kind of folks who normally need reading glasses for small numbers would be helpful, too. Basically, make a Jitterbug on wheels.

You'll probably sell more cars than you do trying to convince Gen-Yers to drive a car they see as their grandpa's car, and the kind of folks who hate smartphones and the internet would consider you a godsend in a market that's constantly making cars more complicated and computerized to drive with every new generation.



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