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  • Heels and Wheels 2013

    Posted on June 5th, 2013 ninarussin

    Annual conference puts women in the driver’s seat

    By Nina Russin

    Aston Martin DB9

    I feel like the Queen: not the one with the Queen wave and frumpy clothes, but rather a Pussy Galore queen with Sean Connery by my side, oozing sex appeal and confidence. I don’t typically have Pussy Galore hallucinations, but I don’t usually get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9 either. The experience was the highlight of my trip to the third annual Heels and Wheels women’s automotive conference in Bend, Oregon

    Of course, there was a more serious aspect to the event, its primary focus being the buying power of women, which currently accounts for at least 50 percent of all new car purchases and up to 80 percent of car buying decisions.

    According to Kelley Blue Book research Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen are the most popular brands among female buyers. Women tend to favor crossover vehicles and SUVs over sports cars and pickup trucks, with models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 topping the popularity charts.

    The internet has become the most popular source of information among women shopping for a new car, due partly to the unease with which many women approach dealerships. KBB visitors typically research a vehicle for two months, take about three more months for the purchasing process and keep their cars between 8 and 10 years.

    Connectivity features are playing a larger role in purchase decisions, with Bluetooth and GPS both included among must-haves.

    Team leaders

    Chris Barman’s Jeep Presentation

    In addition to their widening role in the marketplace, women are more often leading new vehicle engineering and design teams. Guest speaker Chris Barman, vehicle line executive for Chrysler’s C and D segment vehicles gave a walk-around of the all-new Jeep Cherokee that rolls out in the third quarter of 2013.

    The Cherokee is based on Chrysler’s wide architecture: the same platform as the current Dodge Dart. The newest Jeep Cherokee lineup will include one dedicated off-road model called the Trailhawk, and three on road grades: Sport, Limited and Latitude. The Trailhawk has already undergone testing in Moab and will also complete the Rubicon trail to carry Jeep’s trail rating.

    The powertrain includes a choice of either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder Tigershark engine (also found in the new Dart GT) or a 3.2-liter V-6 based on the current Pentastar block. Both are mated to the brand’s first nine-speed automatic transmission, expected to improve fuel economy by 30 percent as compared to the outgoing midsized Jeep Liberty.

    Hot buttons for women buyers

    Other brands represented at the conference included Hyundai, Kia, Dodge, Mitsubishi, Mini, Mazda, Buick, Volkswagen, Aston Martin and Cooper Tire. While vehicles ranged the gamut from the Hyundai Santa Fe crossover to the Mini Cooper S, all had the following attributes that appeal to women buyers:

    • Style: None of the cars at the conference were plain vanilla. While exotics such as the Aston Martin DB9 always turn heads, sedans including the Buick Verano, Dodge Dart, Mazda6 and Kia Cadenza each had a commanding presence on the road.
    • Touch points: With the possible exception of the Mini, interiors were flush with soft touch surfaces and ergonomic controls. Connectivity features ranged from Buick’s IntelliLink voice activated system to Jeep’s new wireless cell phone charger and Kia’s UVO infotainment system, developed in conjunction with Microsoft.
    • Versatility: Fold-flat rear seats have become a qualifier in the current sedan market, but not all pass-throughs are created equal. The Mazda6 was notable for its cavernous trunk and rear seatback releases near the lip of the trunk lid. Fierce competition in the SUV and crossover segments has OEMs improving these interiors as well. For example, the new Jeep Cherokee has a fold-flat front passenger seat and storage under the second-row seats. The new Mitsubishi Outlander is one of the few compact crossovers with three rows of seating, offering large families a more affordable option.
    • Luxury and performance: Women don’t want to drive boring cars. While the uptake on manual transmissions in the US market is less than ten percent, the Buick Verano with a six-speed gearbox is proof that such as car can accrue a loyal following among members of both sexes.
    • Safety: Female buyers are generally thought to be more safety conscious than their male counterparts. Features such as blind spot monitoring on the Mazda6 and Buick Verano, adaptive cruise control on the Mitsubishi Outlander, a standard rearview camera on the Hyundai Santa Fe, and OnStar Safety Connect give these models a competitive edge when women are doing the shopping.
    • The need for green: One of the most popular models among working moms at the conference was the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, which combines the performance of a turbocharged engine with electric motors to extend fuel economy. Parents want to leave a greener world for their children. Hybrid cars are a step in that direction.
    • Value: Women who often support their children on one income are acutely aware of value. Hyundai and Kia’s 100,000 mile warranties, Volkswagen’s complimentary maintenance program and Buick’s complimentary OnStar subscription all appeal to buyers who closely monitor cost of ownership.

    For more information on Heels & Wheels, visit the organization’s web site.

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