Baby Boomers still dominate the in-person auction scene, but Gen-Xers are catching up
It’s been quite a year for big, in-person auctions. We recently looked at why we track the market for the most valuable cars, many of which headline these prestigious events. The value of sculpted metal is not all we observe at the Amelia, Monterey, and Scottsdale auctions, however. Identifying who is buying what at these auctions helps us understand the market outlook for similar but less valuable cars.
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This effort requires a bit of detective work. The auction results are easy to compile, but the auction companies don’t say anything about the new owners. However, we can match the sold vehicle to a vehicle that gets added to a Hagerty policy after the auction. From there, we can begin to gain a more thorough understanding of buyer trends. Starting back in 2017, for those three auction events, we can compare each generation’s share of auction purchases.
As you’d expect, there’s a bit of variation from year to year. Yet there are clear trends: Baby Boomers (1946-1964) remain the primary bidders; pre-Boomers (1945 or earlier) are gradually receding from view; and Gen–X (1965–1981) participation is consistently growing, with nearly double their share from five years ago. Perhaps in another five years, they’ll make up a majority of the winning bidders at these auctions.
What are they buying?
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: people don’t just collect the cars of their youth. That becomes clear when we look at what bidders from each generation brought home. For instance, at 2022’s major auctions, Baby Boomers spent more money on cars from the 2010s than on those from the 1960s. Millennials—a small share overall—showed a strong preference for the 1960s. Notably, vehicles of the 1980s were not on many bidders’ wish lists, with a 3.3 percent share for all generations; however, this also speaks to the fact that the longstanding in-person auctions have been slow, relative to their online peers, to offer these cars.
Drilling down on which marques various generations prefer, we can see that older collectors still can be big spenders—pre-Boomers went after Ferraris more than anything else. Boomers sought out Ferraris and Porsches, but Bugattis too. Gen-X likes Porsches even more, but Mercedes-Benz was the third favorite, and Millennials eschewed Porsche for Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, but also Aston Martin, and Ford.
While these big auctions can seem otherworldly with bid increments sometimes exceeding the value of most “regular” enthusiast cars, we can still learn from them. The Boomer presence remains strong, if showing slight signs of reduced involvement. Gen-X’s share of the collector car market is increasing with every car they buy at these auctions, and they have a particular affinity for Porsches. Collectors across all generations have no problem buying cars older than themselves, and while each generation has its own top 10 marques, Ferrari and Porsche receive broad support.
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