Heels & WheelsPosted on May 22nd, 2011
Women journalists discuss the state of the industry
By Nina RussinWomen comprise 50 percent of all new car buyers in the United States are involved in about 80 percent of new car buying decisions. Yet the automotive industry and the journalists who cover it remains largely male dominated.
My colleague, Christine Overstreet, who has worked in the car industry for fifteen years, came up with the idea of gathering female automotive journalists, products specialists and engineers for a two-day summit on the state of the industry.
Changes inside the industryOne of the biggest changes in the automotive industry today as compared to the start of my own career twenty years ago is in the number of women who hold positions of responsibility. Today, it is much more common for women to work as vehicle line executives, engineers, upper management and journalists.
Car companies have acknowledged that women add valuable perspectives because of the way they approach a vehicle. In general, women tend to be more attentive to interior touch points, ergonomic issues and child safety.
As the automotive market has become more competitive, car companies have come to rely on lifestyle as a marketing tool, which often makes the critical difference in purchasing decisions. In response to this women have founded web sites such as Motherproof.com and Barkbuckleup.com, which approach vehicle reviews from a specific lifestyle perspective.
A female perspective on product evaluationEleven manufacturers and about twenty journalists attended the Heels & Wheels program. In addition, the program included a presentation by the chief economist at Edmunds.com on the state of the industry, and the launch of a new Cooper Tire marketing campaign geared towards women buyers.
Manufacturers including Chevrolet, GMC, Saab, Mitsubishi, Dodge, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Volvo, Mazda and Kia were on hand with vehicles which their product specialists believed were of particular interest to women.
Rather than focusing on one type of car, the idea was to include cars for women in all walks of life, from the Volvo C70 convertible hard top to the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. Honda and Kia brought hybrid versions of the Civic and Optima respectively, while Mitsubishi, Hyundai, GMC, and Dodge displayed crossover vehicles. The Mazda5 bridged the gap between crossover and minivan.
Chevrolet and Saab completed the line-up with the Cruze and 9-5 sedans.
Following the drive tests and cargo-loading exercises, journalists gathered for a round table discussion about the program, and to talk about how the industry is changing to accommodate women buyers.
How women buy cars
Recently Kelly Blue Book did a survey on women visiting its web site to determine how their car buying habits differed from men. According to that survey, women are more likely to buy cars outright, as opposed to leasing the vehicles or driving company cars.
Cross and sport-utility vehicles are more popular with women, who are less likely than men to consider pickup trucks and sports cars. The top five purchase considerations, in order of priority are vehicle price, safety, cargo and interior space, fuel economy and family-friendliness.
Women are more likely than men to consider Asian brands, especially Honda, Toyota and Nissan. Other brands high on the consideration list include Chevrolet, Ford, Subaru and Volkswagen.
The dealership conundrum
Manufacturers and automotive journalists agree that dealerships tend to treat women differently, both before and after the sale. The challenge for car companies is that dealerships are franchises. The franchise system limits the ability of automakers to monitor and act on inappropriate conduct by sales and service personnel.
In order to mitigate the problem, manufacturers including MINI and Scion have web site features which enable customers to spec their cars out online, rather than relying on point of purchase sales brochures.
Kia and Hyundai have led the industry with long-term, all-inclusive warranties which cover service due to defects in the manufacturing process for the life of the vehicle. Twenty-four hour roadside assistance and complimentary scheduled maintenance make women buyers feel more comfortable about owning and servicing their cars.
Some dealerships have addressed customer relations problems by hiring women to help sales and service personnel be more sensitive to the needs of female buyers. Automotive journalist BJ Killeen conducts such workshops at dealerships in the LA area.
Owning the ownership experience
Despite efforts by both the manufacturers and some new car dealers, women are still at a disadvantage when it comes to buying and maintaining their cars. Old habits, and the good old boys network, die hard.
A women’s best defense is a well-educated offense. The proliferation of web sites which provide information on car buying and maintenance can be a great resource for women shoppers before they enter the showroom. Following are some specific more specific suggestions.
Know what your existing car is worth, or better yet, sell it privately. Car owners willing to sell their existing cars privately will make more money than using those vehicles as a trade-in. Carmax, a company which buys used cars for low Blue Book value, is another option. Either way, it’s easier to run the numbers starting with a cash down payment than negotiating with a trade-in.
Know what you want to buy before you enter the showroom. One of the biggest mistakes both men and women make is waffling at the dealership. This is counterproductive for the buyer, and wastes the salesperson’s time.
Know what your new car should cost. Use the internet to find out what invoice and MSRP are on the model you are shopping for. Don’t forget to read up on incentives and rebates as well.
Spec out the car ahead of time. Buy the trim level which includes as many of the options you want as possible, but not features you don’t want to pay for. Add any additional options by purchasing factory option packages.
Use the internet to find the best price on your vehicle, even if the dealership isn’t convenient. You can always service your car after the sale at a closer dealership.
Don’t be afraid to order a car from the factory, if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the showroom floor. Having a car built to specifications typically takes about a month, and requires a small down payment.
A new car is typically the second biggest purchase a person makes in her lifetime. Doing homework ahead of the sale is the best insurance for a happy car ownership experience.
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