Bailout? Put Women at the Wheel

With this morning’s front page photo of a Detroit congregation praying for the success of the Big 3 Bailout, and millions of workers hanging on the funding decision, I hate to come off as a backseat driver, claiming to know what went wrong. But if I were to write a letter to the gentlemen in charge of the US auto industry, it might go like this: 

Dear Sirs, Despite the efforts of thousands of marketers and billions of advertising dollars, you’ve found yourself in a ditch. And, now you’re hitching your wagon to hybrids and smaller cars as the way out. I’d like to suggest another route. 

Legendary GM chairman Alfred P. Sloan proclaimed a “car for every purse and purpose.” Let’s focus on those two “p’s”. Stats show that women buy 65% of all new cars. They’re responsible for about 74% of all the maintenance visits. And, my favorite, when the man of the house makes a mistake buying on his own, she’s got 95% veto power. That puppy’s going back to the farm. 

Although your industry has a history of being very male-dominated, in the headquarters and the dealerships, it’s women who could have saved you. You pooh-poohed minivans and slacked off on their innovation, though moms, who may feel trapped in ‘breeder cars’ for a few years, secretly love them as the best way to maneuver babies and T-ball teams. She’s had the purse and the purpose all along. Where were you? 

I know that there are myths that have propelled your business. That men won’t drive a car women like, but that women will drive a car men like. That if the dealers get wind that you’re becoming a ‘chick’ brand, they’ll erupt. That the typical customer is a cool, young guy, with money to burn and an itchy foot on the gas pedal. (I remember reading that a design mantra was to think of a car as a ripped guy in a tight white t-shirt. Does he come with the car?) 

Hybrids, crossovers, smart wagons and smaller SUVs, did you see them as chick cars? Saturn became successful thanks to women (remember “no haggling”?) But eventually, the brand was drawn back into the cabal and now it’s almost a goner. What about luxury? Who’s pulling down a trillion dollars a year? Women. Who’s outliving men, and soon out-earning them? Women. Who wants performance that’s beautiful, inside and out? Women. 

Welcome to 2008, 2009 and the rest of your careers. Your customer is a ‘she.’ She’s only too glad to tell you what she wants. She’s the buyer, the maintainer, the chauffeur, the speedster, the hipster and the woman behind the wheel. Imagine your future in her hands. It is. And you don’t want to be in her rear view mirror. 

Good luck. Hope you listen, for America’s sake.

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October 28, 2020
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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