Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Leaner Baby Boomer Economy

The downturn is putting a crimp on baby boomers' free-spending ways, and the likes of Mercedes and Starwood Hotels are scrambling to keep up
by David Welch

Mercedes is the quintessential boomer brand. Drive down an American highway, and odds are good that the person piloting the Benz in the next lane was born between 1946 and 1962. And Mercedes-Benz (DAI) has prospered right along with America's huge postwar generation. Back in 1986, when the first baby boomers turned 40, Mercedes sold 99,000 cars in the U.S. In 2006, when those boomers hit 60, the automaker moved almost 250,000 vehicles, a fifth of its global total.

This year, Mercedes will sell a third fewer cars in America. In Montvale, N.J., Kristi Steinberg, who runs Benz's North American market research operation, has a nagging fear: that sales won't recover for a long time because boomers, history's wealthiest generation, are tapped out. "I don't know if anyone knows yet if this is a blip," she says, "or a defining moment like the Great Depression."

Executives such as Steinberg always knew boomers would curb their free-spending ways as they approached retirement. But not in their most nightmarish imaginings could they have predicted that an economic maelstrom would cripple the customers they have courted and counted on for 30 years.

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posted by Leah Gorham

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