TUPdate:Senior Couples Leading the Way with In-Car Navigation

Maybe they tried to ask for directions, or maybe they didn’t, but married active seniors appear to have been lost often enough and badly enough that they’re willing to pay money to avoid repeating the experience-because on average they are more than twice as likely to own or be planning to buy an in-car navigation system than other Americans. Younger folks, however, are not totally lost (ahem) to the technology.

Current in-car navigation systems marry GPS receivers with online map displays to show where the car is at a given moment. Then, anyone with basic map-reading skills can more easily find their way to their destination, whether it is day or night. MetaFacts, Inc., was able to identify this surprise market segment and gauge the market potential of this latest automotive accessory by analyzing responses to questionnaires from its large-scale Technology User Profile survey.

Married active seniors are 213 percent of the national average in their usage or near-term purchase intent for an in-car GPS. Older empty-nesters (or the single-income-no-kids crowd) are the next most likely, being won over to the technology at a rate that’s 153 percent higher than average.

Why is this important?

The early adopters for new technology aren’t always young, urban hipsters. Any technology marketers that put all their energies in the wrong direction will simply miss the mark. The other side of an old marketing adage goes: when someone finds a need, they’ll fill it. With newly-emerging portable navigation devices (PNDs), consumers that don’t want to wait for Detroit will simply bypass the automakers and get an aftermarket product from their computer store, cellular carrier, or other wireless supplier.

It’s not as if the typically-targeted youthful early adopters are out of the picture for in-car GPS. Adoption and interest among younger, affluent singles were 127 percent of the national average. Affluent traditional families were neck and neck with affluent, older singles, rating, respectively, 119 percent and 118 percent. Single parents were not far behind at 112 percent.

But keep in mind that while we are talking about a tidy business-3.3 million households that own or plan to soon buy a system-demand for in-car systems remains well short of a tidal wave. Those “you can’t get there from here” jokes are not about to become obsolete. The technology’s comparative popularity among married active seniors still means that only about one in nine are interested. But that’s wildly better than the national average of 5.2 percent-or slightly better than one in 20-who are interested in the technology.

The other 95 percent of the market are finding other solutions. They either only drive in familiar territory so know their way, download maps in advance from sites like RandMcNally, Mapquest, or maps.google, or have a notebook or handheld with either a GPS receiver or in-car Internet connection. Alternatively, they simply have a traditional paper map, or when that fails, stop and ask for directions. With the exception of using the last approach or having an in-car Internet connection, the other approaches don’t help much when you change your destination somewhere along the way, or somehow get off course.

Meanwhile, while married active seniors lead the way, being old in and of itself does not appear sufficient to trigger interest for in-car GPS-the demographic classification that displayed the least interest in the technology were the single heads of households who were at least 75 years old. With an interest rate of 2.4 percent, they were less than half the average. Nor does having a spouse along to nag you cause the interest to skyrocket-married heads of households who were at least 75 years old had nearly the same score, at 2.5 percent. Single active seniors were also comparative holdouts, at 3.3 percent. Evidently, the “married active” in “married active seniors” is the key-both husband and wife like to get out and travel, and have mutually decided that an in-car GPS is a worthwhile investment to enhance their travel experience.

Other notable holdouts were low to middle income older singles, and both young and older low-to-middle income empty nesters. Presumably, they travel only for business. Both working parents and low-to-middle income traditional families also fell below average in their interest in in-car GPS—presumably, they have family members to assume the chore of reading a paper map, or leaving the car to enter a diner and ask for directions. DINKs (double income no kids) were slightly below average. Perhaps, with no children to pack along, they can afford to fly to their destinations.

Looking ahead, as cell phones and other technologies emerge to challenge satellite-based GPS as the locational technology, consumers will have a wider range of options. This will put pressure on automakers to move more quickly, lest aftermarket wireless solutions pass them by. Senior couple pioneers that navigated the way will in turn be followed by younger early adopters, just as early cell phone adopters enjoyed not needing to find a pay telephone and bypassed the laggards.