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Among Millennials, 53% of Car Buyers Are FemaleCathy Anderson, right, owner of Woody Anderson Ford, a Huntsville, Ala., dealership, discusses a car with Connie Hicklen. Shawn Poynter for the Wall Street Journal

Aug. 20, 2014 6:52 p.m. ET

Published by The Wall Street Journal

On a recent hot summer night outside Detroit, a 62-year-old woman sat in a chair watching the Telegraph Cruise, a classic-car parade on Telegraph Avenue in Taylor, Mich., when a stranger approached and began asking questions.

  • What kind of car did she drive?
  • Why had she chosen that automobile?
  • What did this choice say about her identity?

The stranger, it turned out, was Chris Lezotte, a Ph.D candidate at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, who was doing ethnographic research for her dissertation on the relationship women have with cars.


Ms. Lezotte is one of a small army of researchers trying to get inside the heads of women who need transportation—"to uncover the various meanings women ascribe to cars in a variety of contexts," as she puts it. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute put out a study in 2012 showing that the number of women drivers in the U.S. had surpassed that of men, 105.7 million to 104.3 million, as of 2010.

Ever since, researchers have been wondering why the car-shopping and buying experience is still such a man's game. The National Automobile Dealers Association says last year some 91% of car salesmen at franchised dealerships were men.

Women accounted for 39% of car purchases in 2013, up from 37% four years earlier, according to J.D. Power. That may not seem like a big change, until you consider that Americans bought almost 15.6 million cars last year. A 2% shift represents more than 300,000 vehicles.

When a man buys a car, there is often a woman behind the decision, according to the buzz in auto circles. Globally, women are "making the final decision on more than 60% of new car purchases," said Carlos Ghosn, president and chief executive of Nissan Motor Co, in a speech in July.

ABOVE IMAGE: Chris Lezotte, a Ph. D candidate
studying women's relationships
with their cars,
in her 1949 Ford Coupe. Alan Kalter

Melody Lee, director of brand and reputation strategy for General Motors Co.'s Cadillac division, says she believes women wield influence in anywhere from 85% to 95% of car purchases. "That's what we're seeing in our showrooms and that's what our dealers are telling us," she said.

Here's another statistic, culled from her research:

"If 74% of women feel that they are misunderstood [by car marketers] but they're influencing up to 95% of our car purchases—that's a huge missed opportunity there," she says.

Researchers say demographic shifts offer more reasons for auto makers to refine their sales pitch to women. Women earn more, marry later and divorce more often than they used to. And both women (and men) can be formidable customers, arriving at the dealership armed with research found online, so they aren't at the mercy of a salesman.


At the same time, social media give women "a voice that can impact brands like no other time in history," says Jody DeVere, chief executive of AskPatty, a women's automotive-advisory website. is a kind of automotive matchmaking website for women. Its panel of female experts, from automotive executives to magazine editors to race-car drivers, give women advice on buying, maintaining and insuring cars. At the same time, it sells services to automotive companies who want to attract more women customers.

By completing Web-training modules, retailers can be certified by as "Female Friendly." AskPatty also offers webinars on how to reach women buyers who are Hispanic or baby boomers.

A newer company with some similar aims is, which serves as a forum for women to discuss experiences at specific car dealerships. also offers support for dealers with feedback from women, content for social media and its own market research.

Even before Chief Executive Anne Fleming founded the company in 2013, she had begun compiling her own research on car buying, by sending a questionnaire to some 500 women. The company's continuing research has found that women visit an average of 1.9 dealerships before buying. And 47.5% of women who bought a new car went to the dealership by themselves.

Experts have found women are more likely to rely on online customer reviews and friends' opinions when shopping, while men are more likely to turn to expert reviews.

Ford Motor Co. has created a program called "Live.Drive.Love," which offers women 24-hour test drives. Chantel Lenard, director of U.S. marketing for Ford and Lincoln, said, "It's an opportunity [for women] to experience the product on their own time, in their own environments, so they can show it to friends."

What's down the road? Consider this statistic, Ms. Lenard says. Among millennials—the young adults all industries will soon be fighting for, if they aren't already—53% of car buyers are female. A 2013 study also projects U.S. millennials will be the wealthiest generation ever.

"We're seeing a shift where females are becoming the majority," Ms. Lenard said. "It's an important market and we want to make sure we're delivering on their needs."

Views: 535

Tags: brands, buyers, by, car, cars, dealers, dealerships, journal, rated, reviews, More…street, the, wall, with, women, working


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Comment by John L Mecham on August 25, 2014 at 9:11am

The old saying that the man is the head of the household is debatable and may still be true, but the women is the neck of the household and she still decides if the head bobs up and down or side to side!  That is not debatable.  A very good article for all us old car guys to absorb and adjust our


Comment by Bill Lovell on August 23, 2014 at 10:04pm

Folks, this is old news.

Women influence (read: decide) car buying choices way more than men do.

Take them seriously, don't talk down, and take your time. Women, more than men, don't want to be rushed, or pushed.

Patience, and a more relaxed approach, wins.

Comment by Brian Bennington on August 23, 2014 at 7:56pm

A nice thought provoker, Anne, but the trend for women to have more input (decision making power) was a cultural change that began "breathing" in the '50s, and gained a life of its own during the 60s and the 70s.   And, it wasn't exclusively because women were moving their "station" in life up, as during this same time period, men's image as the "right" and final decision maker was under constant assault.  Take TV, as an example.  In 1960, shows like "Father knows best," "My three sons,"   etc., were popular because they adhered to the conventional wisdom of the day.  By 1970, with shows like "All in the family,"  "cracks" began appearing on the face of man's superiority, arriving at the point we're now at where conventional wisdom is that men, more often than not, at least about the important things, are wrong.

Personally, I like the change.  While your articles haven't got to this point yet, I'd venture a guess that women's decision-making leans a little more to the emotional, rather than the "nuts & bolts" style of men, and I'd much rather play on the "women's side" as the more the buying hinges on the "emotional,"  the less product knowledge, etc. comes into play.  Most of my early sales training (which thankfully wasn't vehicles sales) was based on the emotional side and it opens the doors to selling opportunities men just don't get with other men.  

Comment by Anne Fleming on August 23, 2014 at 5:22pm

Indeed! Huge upside for dealerships to begin to refocus their advertising, their marketing, and yes-- their in-store practices. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter so much to women if their sales advisor is male/female (although every buyer in any retail environment prefers to "see someone that look like them"); the key to the engagement is #1 Respect and #2 Trust. Price is sixth on her list.... that is not to say that price is not important, but rather there is a certain kind of EQ test that the advisor must pass to even get to the conversation of price with most women customers today. 

Again, huge upside for dealers that want to distinguish their store as a more women/family friendly place to do biz -- a destination if you will, rather than 'just a dealership'. Certified dealers are selling $2-4 Million more a year! #SeriousCoin 

Comment by Michael on August 23, 2014 at 3:10pm

Good capture Ralph as a reminder, Thx. Also, a large handful of Dealer/GMs have done, creating a sales floor environment, dealership ambiances, with more flexible hours than existed 25 years ago, women will come and stay. Having a floor with a quality 50% lady gender as service advisors, will Rock.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on August 23, 2014 at 12:44pm

Great article, which should open some eyes... This is a good one to have those few "Female Unfriendly" sales manglers better understand the buying power of women when it comes to selling cars.

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