Why Aren't Women Buying Cars From Detroit?

March 6, 2013

Detroit, we have a problem -- in fact, we have two.

Everyone knows that younger consumers are ambivalent about owning cars. That's an obstacle that automakers around the globe are trying to overcome. But Detroit's Big Three have an additional hurdle: women don't care much for them, either.

According to Detroit News, women are more likely than men to look down on domestic brands. Though the reasons for that mindset aren't clear, women seem to have concerns about the quality and prestige of vehicles from Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. 


The bad news for the Big Three is that roughly 39% of new cars sold are sold to women -- a figure that's ticking up about half a percentage point each year. (Among minority shoppers, the number creeps closer to 50%.) And even when a man's name appears on a vehicle's registration, there's a good chance that a woman had a hand in picking out the car: women influence 80% of today's auto purchases. 

Making things worse is the fact that more women in the U.S. have driver's licenses than men. And that trend doesn't show any sign of reversing.

Research firm R.L. Polk recently looked at sales data to determine which brands were popular among female shoppers. The top spot went to MINI, which sells nearly 49% of its cars to women. Kia, Nissan, Honda, and Fiat rounded out the top five. No domestic automaker broke the top ten, and only Buick fared better than the industry average.

(To be fair, some brands like Ford are at a disadvantage on surveys like this because they sell huge volumes of pickup trucks, which are disproportionately favored by men. However, even with truck sales factored out of the equation, Detroit still trails its foreign rivals in selling to female shoppers.)  

The good news? Perception of U.S. brands may be changing. For many years, Asian and European autos have dominated domestics in terms of overall quality, reliability, and fuel economy. While those marques are still in the lead, the latest rankings from J.D. Power indicate that the playing field is becoming much more level.

There's no overnight fix for this problem (though Isaac Mizrahi tried with the Chevy Malibu, bless his heart). It will take a lot of work on Detroit's part to boost reliability, improve public opinion, and solicit input from female shoppers to make vehicles more attractive to them.

[h/t John Voelcker]


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