Why sexism in the car industry is finally starting to change

Finally, the car industry is beginning to wise up to the army of female consumers who refuse to be patronised and want to buy cars made for them, says motoring journalist 
Erin Baker

‘I’m sorry?’, asked my mother, as we both stared in disbelief at the salesman. ‘You’ll be wanting to check with your husband before you buy the car,’ he repeated. My mum’s been single for 40 years; I’ve been a senior motoring journalist for 15 years, including a stint as The Daily Telegraph’s motoring editor, and recently as editorial director of Auto Trader. If only this example was rare. Sadly, we know the entire car industry 
– from the cars themselves, to marketing, dealerships, magazines and motor shows – is still a male-biased environment, where women and unconfident buyers are given little support and guidance.

One might, at a stretch, understand this approach if only men bought and drove cars. But there are 11.8 million female licence holders in the UK, a number that’s growing faster than that of our male counterparts. Women have always been the influencer behind the majority of car purchases in this country (around 80 per cent), but increasingly, we are now the primary customer, buying our own cars with our own money, for our own pleasure. We have more disposable income than ever: in the US, women now own 60 per cent of private wealth, and you can bet your bottom dollar a similar stat is heading here.

So, why do women still find the car-buying experience such a negative one? According to a recent survey by Auto Trader, 94 per cent of women don’t trust dealerships, 83 per cent don’t trust manufacturers, and 40 per cent ‘dread’ the buying process. Thankfully, all is not lost. The cars themselves are forcing changes. Petrol and diesel-powered sports models are disappearing, replaced by hybrid and pure electric vehicles. The days of adverts that show women splayed across the bonnet of a V8 sports car are fading. Instead, we are embracing electric cars, which are more focused on lifestyle than performance. The emphasis is not on horsepower any more, but sustainability. Also, the conversation is shifting from engineering to interiors, as the car evolves into ‘the third space’, after the office and home, in which to hold our conference calls, or help the kids with their homework.

 

‘We want to be respected and recognised for our spending power, not patronised’

 

The car industry knows it must respond to the female consumer, who, right now, feels utterly disenfranchised. If it doesn’t, women will take their hard-earned cash away from dealers and buy online. They’ll be swayed by social platforms, too, where the likes of Google and Uber, who are both trialling their own autonomous cars, will reach them first.

So, is the industry doing anything right for us? Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, McLaren, Honda, Fiat and Aston Martin employ a decent number of women across different positions. Lamborghini has launched a Female Advisory Board, which I sit on, alongside women from the creative, health and finance industries. Citroen has a female CEO, Linda Jackson, who recently sat in a car and pointed out that there was nowhere for her handbag to rest.

In reality, our wish list is not dissimilar to men’s. Cost, space, practicality and safety all feature high on the demands of both genders, but we want to be respected and recognised for our spending power, not patronised. We want to see car reviews done by women, by people like us, and we want to buy from companies that share our values and take diversity seriously themselves. We’d also like to see the stories that are told around cars brought in line with how we live, rather than in the dry way they’ve always been told in car mags aimed at men.
I hope that in five years’ time, women will talk about cars as they do about fashion, health or anything else. And no dealer will say ‘I expect you’ll want to check with your husband’ ever again.

Watch Erin Baker test cars in the all-female REV Test at Auto Trader: youtube.com/watch?v=YpqpsSB7wkM)

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