Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Truth About Caroline: She Was (Not) An American (Car) Girl ...

Image courtesy CorvetteBlogger

The saying, “Men are from Mars and women are Venus”, embodies more truth than one may realize. It is no secret that men and women have had differences in matters of opinion ever since the beginning of time. We are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve. Here we are, X versus Y, still at odds on well… EVERYTHING!

It’s no different today when we take a look at the automotive industry. When you look at men and women on the road today, you will notice a BIG difference in automotive choices. Speaking from a woman’s perspective I can honestly say, I’m not sure if I will ever understand the thought process of a man’s choice of car. However, I believe it’s fair to say that men probably have no clue what we’re thinking when we decide on a vehicle as well.

Upon hearing that I was writing for a car blog, a female friend of mine remarked that you don’t see many women of any age driving American made cars nowadays.

She’s right. It’s the kind of thing you don’t notice until someone points it out. But why is that so? Well, you could argue that a woman’s thought process is very basic: We want something that is catchy, cute, and affordable. We want a car to be dependable and require very little maintenance. Time management is important; all we really want is to get from point A to point B. But it helps matters if we look chic while doing so. When we drive a vehicle we want it to be effortless. We just want it to work-we don’t have time for anything above and beyond the manufacturer’s scheduled maintenance. And American cars, whether deserved or not, don’t have nearly the reputation for reliability that Japanese makes do.

Let’s face it, in a woman’s world, we become distracted easily and day to day life can catch up to us and take over at any moment. We have so much on our minds that we don’t want to think of how to drive a vehicle, we just want to drive. The feeling a young woman can obtain in her car can be sublime. Driving in silence, abandoning all thoughts, giving in and becoming one with the road is essentially bliss to us. To casually drive and lose ourselves in the nothingness of the terrain for just 10 minutes is priceless freedom because this could be the only 10 minutes of peace we get all day. Maybe it’s the time between the moment we leave the hustle and bustle of the office and the time we pick up our kids from daycare and begin the nightly parenting routine. A car that is carefree and uncomplicated is what we seek.

When I envision myself in the perfect vehicle of my choice I picture a Mini Cooper, or an Acura RSX, or maybe a VW Eos. Most surprisingly, I picture the Hyundai Elantra; it’s the most efficient all the way around. Fundamentally it seems to stand out over the rest; it is remarkably affordable, low cost maintenance, great gas mileage, stylish, and easy to drive. It’s truly remarkable how the perception of the Elantra, specifically, and Hyundai, in general, has evolved in the last ten years with women. We’ve gone from the “wouldn’t be caught dead in this shitbox” 2001 model to the 2014 that is arguably the most highly regarded amongst Gen Y women in the class.

When I started to really analyze the stereotypically “American” cars, I also noticed their masculinity and bulkiness; man cars to do man things, definitely geared for the typical male buyer. If you consider the quintessential Amercian automobiles available today, what comes to mind first? Maybe it’s the Chevrolet Corvette, or maybe the Dodge Charger, and of course, we cannot forget the Ford F-150 (which was named by cars.com as the most American vehicle this year). While all the vehicles I mentioned above are exceptional, I do not picture a woman driving any one of them. These are rugged, able-bodied vehicles. Add a rugged man to go with that rugged truck…YES PLEASE! But the thought of me behind the wheel of any of these is, frankly, comical, at best and disastrous, at worst. When I think American cars, I don’t think of cars in the A and B segments. And that’s a problem.

Here’s the issue: GM, Ford, and Chrysler all have good, solid efforts in the $20K and under segment. The Fiesta, Focus, Spark, Sonic, and Dart are largely solid efforts. But I hate their brands, and so do all of my friends. Millennial women LOVE brands. We think Apple is ah-may-zing. When it comes to cars, we rank BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi among our favorite luxury brands, period, right up there with Prada and Marc Jacobs. We trust Honda and Toyota like we trust our favorite brands of tampons. Chevy? Ford? Dodge? You don’t register.

It’s going to take quite a long time and quite a bit of brand equity building for the Big Three to get Gen Y women on their side. Remember the original Fiesta Movement? It was the ill-fated and poorly executed attempt to get women like me to find the Fiesta desirable by putting it in the hands of people like Jen Friel. Seriously. It helped them sell approximately zero Fiestas. Since it was such an epic failure the first time, Ford is, of course, trying again and this go round they’ve given Fiestas to people like Trevor Bayne. The last thing Ford needs is for me to associate the Fiesta with NASCAR fans. I see enough hillbillies driving around with #88 flags on their trucks. Give me somebody like Zooey Deschanel, somebody that I can identify with.

In the long run, the women of Gen Y hold the future of automakers in our well-manicured hands. We will make the buying decisions on the family sedans in the next ten years. We’ll be deciding which minivan to buy (shudder) when the soccer team needs a ride. And we’ll be deciding which brands to trust our sixteen-year old daughter’s life to when she gets behind the wheel of her first car.

So make us like you, Big Three. Give us a reason to switch. Make us feel like our girlfriends won’t think we’re stupid for picking you. Because, right now, you’re losing us. It’s a game you just can’t afford to lose.



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