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Growing Trend: Women Shaping the Auto Biz

By Holly Reich, August 25th, 2012

When you assemble a group of women in the automotive industry the talk isn't going to be all about cars, but when it comes to women and their spending the talk is loud and clear: Females are leading the numbers when it comes to buying vehicles.

Manufacturer photo: Fashion Designer Bonnie Siefers test drives the Chevrolet Volt in Hollywood, Calif.
Manufacturer photo: Fashion Designer Bonnie Siefers test drives the Chevrolet Volt in Hollywood, Calif.

I spoke with several women who hold important positions at major automotive manufacturing companies. We met up at the second annual "Heels & Wheels" conference held in San Diego, Calif. I wanted their views on how carmakers think women will impact style, growth and the future of the automotive industry. Here are the main insights from women on the inside:

"It's not a matter of how or will women impact the automotive industry -- because they already do. It's a matter of the industry further evolving, whether in product development, marketing, sales, etc., to the ever-changing consumer market." said Beverly Braga, product communications, Mazda USA. "The industry has to adapt from the sketchpad to the end product and all the processes in between; to be better and smarter in order to provide all consumers with the right products and services to fit their needs."

Women influence roughly 80 percent of vehicle purchase decisions. "At Chrysler Group we take a lot of pride in the fact that the folks that design, engineer and build our vehicles represent the customers that buy our vehicles," explained Kathy Graham, product public relations manager -- C and D segment vehicles.

"We have women in roles that influence the design, engineering and building of the vehicles," Graham added. "As more and more women work their way into decision-making positions with manufacturers, it helps give voice to what women customers are looking for in their vehicle."

Manufacturer photo: Fashion Designer Bonnie Siefers test drives the Chevrolet Volt in Hollywood, Calif.

"I believe we will see the dealership experience growing as the family model changes. More and more women will be the prime household shopper going forwards, and, because of their different interests, they will look for a new salesperson approach," said Deborah Sandford, national communications events manager, Jaguar Land Rover North America.

"Women often represent the largest group of buyers (depending on segment), but go to market with different considerations than men. We also do research and make purchase decisions via some different resources at different stages in the consideration process, social media, blogs, for example." said Amanda Savercool, public relations, Mitsubishi Motors North America.

"Women have more purchase and decision-making power than ever. From the automaker's side, more women than ever are playing an integral role in the planning, designing and engineering of vehicles," according to Kathleen Zimmerman, manager, brand marketing plans & research, Kia Motors America. "The future result of this dichotomy is an automotive marketplace full of offerings influenced by women and to be driven by women."

"When I started there was only a small number of women in the automotive industry; since then, we see women entering in all areas of the business -- not just HR, but marketing, engineering, product planning and senior management," observed Marine Prache, product planning manager, Jaguar North America.

"Today and in the future, all consumers expect improvements in safety, performance, efficiency and technology; all while expecting vehicles to continue to meet their expectations for quality and style." said Katie Maltais, Buick Communications. "Furthermore, in this age of reconsideration, consumers, luxury and mainstream, are increasingly more aware and conscious of how they spend each dollar, and are constantly looking for value."

The auto industry faces an extremely dynamic and challenging future as the expectations and demands of consumers continue to evolve.

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