Stateside
5:20 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

What women look for when buying a new car

In a recent study by L.R. Polk, none of the top ten car companies that women prefer were domestic.

Susan Ianni, the general manager of Gordon Chevrolet of Garden City, argued otherwise.

"Women here love domestic cars," she said. "It's in other parts of the country where the problem lies. Women aren't even looking at domestic cars. They aren't even on their shopping list. Women are going for the car they're driving which is probably a foreign car, so they're going back to that dealership and not giving domestic cars a chance."

So what was this study getting at and why do some women prefer foreign cars?

"I think a lot of it has to do with perception," said Michelle Krebs, an auto analyst for Edmunds.com. "A lot of women want to buy what they perceive to be the highest quality, reliable car that they can. For a long time that was a Japanese car."

She says that's changing these days.

"Detroit didn't have a lot of things that competed with cars like the Toyota Camry, but that all shifted," said Krebs.

According to Krebs, the Detroit Three were aware that they needed to change their approaches well before the bailout.

"Detroit was aware that they needed to get in the small car market and do better in the midsize market," she said. "They started putting a lot of resources into that and product development and I think they've done a really good job."

Ianni has been in selling cars since the 1980s, and acknowledged that the dealership experience is key, especially when it comes to getting women back in to buy new cars.

"Years ago, domestic cars required a negotiating process and foreign cars didn't," Ianni said. "If you bought a foreign car you paid 'sticker price' and people liked knowing that they were paying the same price as the guy who lives next door to them."

According to Ianni, domestic cars rarely require a negotiation process, due to low MSRP. 

So how do domestic car companies get women back into the dealership? 

"I personally don't think that when it comes down to it, that men and women are that different when it comes to cars," said Krebs. "Men have the reputation of wanting to be impulsive and want fast sports cars, but there are women who want that too. What men and women want is a great experience in the dealership."

Ianni agreed, noting that a problem for typical car dealerships is the turnover rate of sales people. When a man or woman returns to a car dealership for a new car, often the person who sold them their old car no longer works there. The lack of continuity doesn't always encourage good relationships with customers. 

"They want great, consistent experience," Krebs said. 

A desire for a great experience isn't something that varies between men and women. 

"Everyone wants the same thing," Ianni added. "They want a nice, comfortable car at a good value, they like the gadgets like OnStar - it's the same. Women work and men take the kids to soccer practice, there aren't the traditional roles anymore." 

Krebs believed that the shift in gender roles within the car companies themselves are also indicative of a changing industry - one in which women play a new role. 

"There has been a lot of focus on - especially within the younger generation - about buying from companies that share your values," she said. "So which companies have women in management? It's not the Korean or Japanese or European companies. At GM, a number of the top positions are held by women and I think we'll see a female CEO there soon. Ford's been very good about that, too."

Krebs noted that female management within the companies isn't something the Big Three publicize, and wondered if it would influence women who were looking to buy a new car. 

Soon, the auto industry might not be worrying about targeting gender demographics, but just young people in general.

"We've yet to see a big onslaught of young car buyers," Krebs said. "They've been held back by unemployment and big college debt, so we're waiting to see how they come to the market. We don't know what they want yet, but we're seeing things like Zipcar or living in urban areas where owning a car isn't necessary."

Ianni emphasized that although no one knows how the younger generation will emerge within the auto market, stability and "quick, honest and fast service" need to be consistent, regardless of the market.

"It's product, product, product," Krebs added. "We always want quality and reliability."

-Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

To listen to the full interview, click the link above.