What women want — in a car


06.05.13 Thumbnail JeepWhen it comes to cars, it’s a man’s world, and it has been for more than a century. But when it comes to household purchases, modern women hold the purse strings. Heels and Wheels, an annual women’s automotive conference held in Bend this past week, spotlights industry trends for female consumers.

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06.06.13 Blog Jeep
2014 Jeep Cherokee. Photo credit: Kristen Hall-Geisler

When it comes to cars, it’s a man’s world, and it has been for more than a century. But when it comes to household purchases, modern women hold the purse strings. Women are believed to influence more than 80% of all consumer purchases, and this spring the Pew Research Center reported that mothers are the breadwinners for nearly 40% of American households.

Like many businesses with a traditionally male clientele, car makers are eager to reach out to this new female market. One such initaitive is Heels and Wheels, an annual industry event held in Bend this past week. During the 3-day show, women automotive journalists and auto manufacturers discussed what buyers are looking for while also providing insights into overall trends for women consumers.

Here are six that apply across industries.

Women are going green. According to AutoPacific, women are jumping on the eco-bandwagon when it comes to cars, with the highest growth in purchases of small cars and green cars — thus the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid and Mini Cooper Coupe S convertible were at Heels and Wheels for test drives. While improved fuel economy is a factor in both segments, buying according to personal values as well as economic value is a trend among women buyers.

Women are sowing their oats. Younger women are staying single longer and having fewer kids, which for auto makers means moms and minivans are no longer a given. Automotive journalist Joni Gray noted that women are also divorcing in record numbers. “This is a growth area,” she said, “as it creates a new household.” Whether they’re starting out or starting over, women will need products to fit their independent life styles.

But women are spending like crazy on their kids. When women do have families, those families are smaller, and these moms want the best for their kids. In the automotive world, that may mean DVD entertainment systems, but it often translates as higher quality purchases made with Mom’s values in mind, like personal luxury or environmental friendliness.

Women are finding life after 50. Women who qualify for AARP membership aren’t retiring — they have the highest net worth among women, and their wealth is growing. They also know what they want, according to automotive research website Kelley Blue Book, whose users fall mostly between the ages of 38 and 67 years. Diana Miranda, who does market intelligence for Kelley, brought the site’s data to Heels and Wheels, which showed that 68% of women visiting the site know what kind of car they want, half know the price they are willing to pay, and 46% even know the brand they will buy. Acknowledging  these savvy shoppers with money to spend could lift a business’s bottom line.

Women are multi-tasking. Not only do women have a lot to do in their day, they demand that their technology keep up with them. Miranda told the crowd, “The number-one features women are looking for are Bluetooth connectivity and leather.” Taking Sally to soccer practice doesn’t mean the phone stops ringing or that Mom will lower her standards. Women are not shy about using advanced technology when it melds with their busy schedules and makes their lives seamless. As Chris Barman, lead engineer for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee project, pointed out to journalists, that means incorporating clever storage, including a cubby under the passenger seat that fits a purse and a wireless charging system for devices.

Women are loyal. Miranda also told the group, “Forty percent of women car buyers are loyal to a brand.” Tapping into that loyalty requires quality and service for cars and other goods, but it can pay off in the long run with nearly half of women returning to a brand they know and trust.

Kristen Hall-Geisler is a freelance writer based in Bend