What’s driving women in the car market today? It’s not simply that for the first time in history there are more women licensed to drive than men, but women also control more than $13 trillion in personal wealth today, as compared to $6.5 trillion in 1995. Plus, the average American woman is expected to earn more than the average male by 2020—and command up to a whopping $22 trillion in spending power. The ever-growing power of the purse and the shifting role of women in the automotive market were the themes at the third-annual Heels and Wheels event, organized by Overstreet Events and held recently at the Brasada Ranch, in Bend, Oregon.
In attendance were female automotive writers, along with the public relations, marketing, and communications staff representing a number of top automakers in the U.S. Also on hand were 10 autos for test drives, ranging from a $150,000 Aston Martin to a $20,000 Dodge Dart GT; this allowed the attendees to evaluate and discuss a wide variety of models and vehicle features. The overall goal of the event was to explore the purchasing power of women, who make more than 85 percent of all consumer decisions—including those for cars and technology.
According to research by Auto Pacific, women will control two thirds of consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade. Other data came from presentations by Kelly Blue Book (kbb.com), the top new-and used-car web site; Cooper Tires; and Chris Barman, one of Chrysler’s Vehicle Line Executives, who did a walk-around presentation of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
When it comes to researching and purchasing cars and tires, updated and new facts include the following stats from Cooper Tires, the country’s 4th-largest tire brand: 50-plus-year-old women are the healthiest, wealthiest, and most active generation of women in history; nearly 80 percent of women use the internet for research before making a purchase; women buy 65 percent of all new tires; make 65 percent of new car purchases and 45 percent of light trucks and SUV purchases. Cooper’s stats show that women request 65 percent of service work to their vehicles; 70 percent of women are buying tires when they are informed they need them, with price as the top consideration, whereas, tire brand was only key to 20 percent of female buyers. Also of note: three-fourths of women polled say they feel misunderstood by car marketers.
Considering these facts, it’s discouraging that automobiles have largely been sold the same way for more than 100 years, despite these noted cultural changes and trends. It was pointed out again this year that auto manufacturers do not have direct control over their franchises’ staff, sales, and marketing tactics. And, although carmakers still sell mostly “androgynous” products that are expected to appeal to both sexes—with male themes often dominating—some positive changes are taking place.
In fact, there’s lots of good news. More than 500,000 women every month are “in-the-market” to buy a car within a one-to three-month window. And, although car registrations show 60/40 men to women, recent data reveals the number is often closer to 50/50. Plus, looking at women’s choices in cars shows that female buyers have the highest growth in two of the fastest-growing segments in the market—small cars and green cars. Although high numbers of women drive SUVs/CUVs and minivans, a higher numbers of men choose sport cars and pickups. Other facts from kbb.com include the information that 82 percent of women will buy, rather than lease; they seek a new car due to the age/mileage of their current vehicle, for better fuel economy or more seats.
Overall, regardless of gender, the majority of consumers are aware of most of the technology that is now available as standard or optional vehicle equipment. Women tend to prefer technology equipment that improves safety and 911 assist, while more males than females indicated a GPS/Navigation system as an important feature to consider, according to kbb.com.
Further data from kbb.com shows that when considering a new car, women’s “must haves” include quality and dependability; they must feel safe while driving and they care about seat comfort, ride comfort, and handling. Chances are, as this new data reaches the dealership world, there will be more focus on “feminizing” the car buying experience.
Sue Mead is a nationally known automotive writer.