Women and Wheels: A Market Too Big to Ignore

With women representing over 60 percent of the population and many working outside of the home, we are a huge car-buying market.

Today, women are the predominant drivers of over 50 percent of vehicles. We control almost $4 trillion in annual consumer spending and 50 percent of U.S. wealth; and we purchase two out of three cars.

As women make impressive progress in business and politics it stands to reason that our buying power can no longer be ignored. Unfortunately, automotive manufacturers continue to struggle with this issue. At times they seem to recognize the power of female buyers; at other times they seem to forget all about us.

In the late 1980s, Cosmopolitan magazine predicted that by the year 2000, women would account for 60 percent of new car purchases. The article grouped female car buyers into six distinct categories: value seekers, luxury buyers, budgeters, driving enthusiasts, comfort seekers and voluntary minimalists.

As women’s interests in vans and trucks grew, purchases changed. Women began to purchase more of these vehicles, and manufacturers realized that what women want in a car is no different from what men want.

If women have so much power in the marketplace, “why is the car-buying experience still a nightmare for many women?” asks Road and Travel Magazine, Some dealerships are beginning to recognize that the attitude of their sales staff is a contributing factor to the problem. In response, many are now marketing directly to women and training their sales staff on how to connect with female consumers.

Women take big ticket purchasing decision making very seriously; they do their homework. When it comes to car buying, women are particularly interested in reliability, resale value and crash test results; they are willing to do the research necessary to get this information and, in general, assign a higher importance to all factors affecting a purchase.

Over the years, I have witnessed some positive changes in the automotive industry’s treatment of female consumers. However, progress has been slow, as women struggle to make inroads as both consumers and career professionals. Manufacturers do seem to be reaching out to female buyers. For instance, Infiniti has announced that in early 2007, it plans to increase its marketing budget by 20 percent in order to focus on women.

General Motors has established an initiative targeting female buyers, and for the past 10 years, Ford Motor Company has participated in events promoting women’s issues, such as Race for the Cure (breast cancer) and child safety seat programs.

There are numerous automobile-related events targeted to a female audience. The Center for Automotive Education & Training in Queens, New York, sponsors a particularly good seminar program for women on careers in the retail automotive industry, featuring experts in the automotive field.

A 2006 Harris survey found that most women rated the overall car-buying experience highly; ninety –two percent responded that they were extremely, very or somewhat satisfied.

The study attempted to debunk myths about gender differences in car buying (i.e., that most women are apprehensive about making car purchases and are more likely to bring a spouse or other male companion to the showroom.) The study found that women who did bring a spouse or male companion did so because they considered the purchase to be a family investment, not because they believed their male companion was more knowledgeable.

In order to learn more about car buying, “women should take advantage of the variety of educational resources available to them,” states Diana Don Colby of Capitol One.

There are a myriad of automotive Websites aimed at women, including:

When car shopping, women expect quick, effortless transactions; good trade-in prices; friendly, trustworthy, respectful and attentive sales staff; and fair prices—just like their male counterparts.

About the Author

Susan Frissell, PhD, is an automotive writer and publisher of Womenwithwheels.com. She can be reached at editor@womenwithwheels.com and welcomes your questions and comments.

 

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