The concept of universal design is both sensible and alluring: Design products that are easy for the differently-abled or elderly to use, and they become easier for everyone to use. Still, it's a tricky dance to pull off, largely because of that universal un-doer of good things: people's egos. "If a car screams that it was designed 'for old people,' Boomers will hate it and so will younger buyers," says Matt Thornhill, president of the Boomer Project marketing research firm. "Boomers want vehicle designs that reflect their youthful vitality and aspirations, even if they are dealing with age-related issues."
Chevrolet believes they've hit the sweet spot with their Equinox crossover SUV by quietly tucking what they describe as universal design features into the interior. The sill placement makes the car easier to get in and out of; the height of the rear deck is easy to hoist groceries onto; the center console is easy to reach; the rear seat can be slid forward to make it easier for those in the front seats to reach whatever's back there, whether it's bags or babies.
"We never design vehicles specifically for older consumers, but we increasingly integrate design solutions that work for all users, regardless of age," says GM Project Manager Carl Wellborn. "Designs that make life easier for older users also work for younger users. Universal design is the key to unlocking usability solutions and implementing them successfully."
You may ask why Chevrolet, the marque that produces the Corvette and the Camaro, bothers to target older drivers. The answer is simple numbers: According to J.D. Power and the AARP, "people ages 50 and older now buy more than six of every ten new vehicles sold." That's a pretty sobering statistic, and one that all carmakers are sure to take note of.