Light trucks are becoming increasingly popular among 'Baby Boomers', according to a new study by Polk.

The study shows that sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks accounted for nearly 40 percent of all new vehicle registrations during the 2000 model year (19 percent and 18 percent, respectively), as manufacturers refine product offerings that cater to a large, ageing group of consumers with strong purchasing power.

Baby Boomers are those classified as 35-54 years of age. According to U.S. census bureau projections, the number of Americans in the 45-54 and 55-64 year-old age categories will increase dramatically over the next five years.

These two segments alone will account for one-third of the vehicle buying population. Along with this ageing will come the freedom of an 'empty nest' (i.e. children have left home) and levels of disposable income higher than at any other time in the past.

Focused on the vehicle buying patterns of Baby Boomers, Polk's analysis found that SUVs and pickups had the highest concentration of new vehicle purchases among this group (totalling 43.6 percent), while minivans accounted for an additional 9.4 percent of their purchases.

Polk's research indicates that while minivans continue to be more popular among Boomers with children than those without, the appeal of SUVs and pickups is much broader and far more dominant. This was particularly true for SUVs, with nearly one-fourth of Boomer purchases falling into this vehicle segment.

Importantly, the general appeal of SUVs was equally strong among Boomers regardless of whether or not the purchasing household had children 18 years of age or younger.

"It's widely known that SUVs and light trucks have many of the convenience and comfort amenities families desire in a vehicle - perfect for transporting children to their many activities," said Lonnie Miller, performance consultant for Polk. "But they also fit the needs of a maturing group of consumers, particularly those who enjoy travelling and spending time with their grandchildren," Miller said.

Manufacturers appear to be motivated not just by the size of the Baby Boomer market, but also by its impressive purchasing power.

"We find that as consumers age, there has traditionally been movement into the luxury vehicle segment," said Miller.

"This continues to be true. However, SUVs and pickups are so popular among Boomers we have every reason to believe the affinity toward these types of vehicles will continue.

"Accommodating the increased demand for more luxurious light trucks and vehicle amenities will be an issue automakers must continue to address."

Manufacturers have been aware of this trend and the continued appeal of light trucks to ageing Baby Boomers. At least 12 new models were introduced in the SUV and pickup segment during the 2000 model year. In recent years, several SUVs have been introduced by luxury brands, both import and domestic.

Crossover vehicles that combine the characteristics of an SUV and a high-performance luxury sedan are increasingly becoming an area of focus for manufacturers.

The Polk study revealed that consumers are already purchasing luxury SUVs at a far higher rate. The number of luxury SUVs purchased during the first nine months of the 2000 model year increased 23.7 percent from the same time period in 1999, and represented 8.5 percent of all sales within the SUV segment. Sales were particularly strong among Baby Boomers, which accounted for 63.9 percent of all luxury SUVs purchased.

"This further indicates the increasing trend toward manufacturers addressing the larger amounts of disposable income within these age segments," said Miller. "Both the light truck segment and the luxury vehicle segment should fare well as Baby Boomers continue to age. It's clear the manufacturers recognise this and are adjusting their product mix accordingly.

"Even in the pickup segment, we see movement toward more luxury-oriented models - with indicators such as luxury trim packages and the introduction of the Lincoln Blackwood."