By Jessica Dufresne

Women are not usually thought of as major consumers when it comes to cars, but the reality is that they often control the household budgets and, thus, have a major influence on spending. And, when it comes to big household purchases, next to a house, an automobile is number one. In fact, studies have shown that women make up over half of all new car purchases…so why do they always get the short end of the stick when it comes to service at dealerships, auto body shops, and car company marketing?

These are just some the questions addressed by Heels & Wheels, an organization devoted to spreading the word about female purchasing power when it comes to cars. Their self-titled annual event brings together influential women involved in the automotive industry (journalists, PR reps, designers, engineers, etc.) to discuss the aforementioned questions and to test vehicles such as Jaguar, Land Rover, Volkswagen, Cadillac, Buick, Mazda, Kia, Hyundai, Chrysler, Dodge, and Mitsubishi for real-world compatibility.

Heels & Wheels Cars
Test-drive lineup

At this year’s conference, held during the last week of May in sunny San Diego-La Jolla, the main topic at hand was how the decision-making process of car buying depends on the type of woman making the purchase. We all know the cliche of the older man in the midst of a midlife crisis buying some kind of hot sports car, but what about a woman in that same situation? Or the empty nester who finally has the time and resources to do something for herself? How about the recent divorcee who wants to start over? Or, maybe the buyer is a young woman fresh out of college, or perhaps married with children? There are infinite scenarios, and all lead to the same questions: How do car manufacturers market their vehicles to these different women, how do salesmen interact with them, and what do these women look for in a car anyway, besides a good deal?

The answer is that there is no specific answer. While car companies appear to have made note and are taking the initiative to appeal to women through design, real-world functionality, and marketing of their new vehicles, the industry as a whole is slow to follow suit. Case in point: A common lament by event participants was poor service shown at dealerships. Apparently salespeople haven’t gotten the memo that when a woman enters a showroom, she most likely knows exactly what she wants, thanks to hours of prior research, and wants to be treated with respect, just like the men who are car-shopping.

In the end, how fast the tides turn will depend on how seriously the car industry takes this issue. Nevertheless, women’s car-purchasing power will continue to be a best-kept secret, and both Simply Rides and Heels & Wheels will continue to fight the good fight.

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