The Feminine Mystique

Women have an undeniable influence on the car market – and dealerships are taking notice.

The stereotype of the woman who comes into a dealership like a lamb to the slaughter is just that – a stereotype. Women are savvy consumers, well-researched and less intimidated by the process now.

And, surveys show that female consumers are more likely to buy crossovers and SUVs than men. According to an iSeeCars study released in 2014, women are 67 per cent more likely to buy crossovers than men; they are nine per cent more likely to buy an SUV than men.

The same study showed that women are more likely to buy South Korean and Japanese cars than men are, and they are about equal when it comes to German vehicles. Men are more likely to buy a vehicle from one of the American Big Three.

And, if a large segment of the consumer base prefers Japanese vehicles, chances are that they will remain in Japanese vehicles. If people like the cars they drive, they are more loyal to their brands than those buying other goods. Raise your hand if you started with a small car, say a Toyota or Honda. It’s easy to figure that, if you’re happy with that starter vehicle, you would want to follow up into Lexus and Acura, the upscale brands of those companies.

“Both men and women start somewhere. If it’s Toyota, they’re definitely loyal to the brand. I know that because I see them come in on trade on Lexuses,” says Farid Shivji, manager of Lexus South Pointe. “I strongly believe there is a direct correlation between the increase in female entrepreneurship and the increase in women acquiring luxury vehicles.”

A 2014 Consumer Reports study showed that 60 per cent of Toyota drivers stay loyal to the brand. Honda was at 56 per cent.

Safety has always been a key factor with women and vehicles. There are proud-to-be “truck-loving girls” but the sales trends show that women consumers prefer their vehicles to be a little more practical.

Volvo has always known this. The Swedes have long been at or near the top of lists of purchases by women, including one from last year led by their S40 sedan (58 per cent of S40s sold were to women). Volvo have added curvier lines since its “bulletproof boxes” of the ’80s and ’90s, but safety still underlines the manufacturer’s credo.

Subaru carved a niche using the firm-footedness of all-wheel-drive instead of the traditional 4×4. The RAV4 and CRV were instant hits when they arrived in the ’90s and set off the sport-utility/crossover market by hitting, along with practicality, those sweet spots – the ability to be rugged, but not big and boxy. The Volkswagen Tiguan crossover recently passed its own Beetle and Eos (those cars had 55 per cent and 56 per cent, respectively, of their sales to women) in popularity amongst women.

The Lexus RX is one of North America’s top-selling luxury vehicles, across all styles.

There are stats – or you can simply eyeball the streets.

“It’s about looks, it’s about safety, it’s about being higher up,” says Shivji. “Finish and quality are important, too. And our not-so-average climate in Northern Alberta. It gives that peace of mind.”

 The Caddy Example

Women always loved Cadillacs – but usually from the passenger seat. They were rarely the ones driving.

Cadillac is an example of an old-school brand that is trying to hip itself up. In 2013, to tap into the lucrative Chinese market, a new Cadillac partnership in Asia had its whole advertising strategy helmed by Violet Li. One of the key ads features a Cadillac SRX crossover with a woman in the foreground, promising that the vehicle delivers the American mystique of the Route 66 experience.

Cadillac is trying to revamp its masculine image – that same iSeeCars study shows that men are still twice as likely to buy a Caddy than women.

In North America, Cadillac’s latest TV ad features a female (being stared at by an envious male) getting into their SRX crossover. She’s the driver, not him.

Women have always had their say in the process – to a certain degree, says Dave Mussell, general manager at Don Wheaton Cadillac/GM on Whyte.

“Guy’s in buying a truck; [his] wife, girlfriend, she’s picking colours, picking options,” he says. “Things that impact families.”

But the female influence is growing. And dealerships are seeing that women are having a major effect on the industry.

“This company has other dealerships,” says Mussell. “We have Mercedes, we have Toyota, Honda … we regularly sit down and compare (notes). The stats we have today say that women have an effect on basically 80 per cent of the purchases. I think they are the single-biggest influence on the marketplace right now.”Women have an undeniable influence on the car market – and dealerships are taking notice.

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