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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:07AM



With women driving most car-buying decisions — and driving most cars, period — their influence will be on display at this year’s Chicago Auto Show.

From design features to marketing, automakers and show planners are seeking to woo them.

Among female-friendly and inspired features show visitors will see:

◆ A storage area large enough to hold a purse between the front seats of the Toyota Highlander.

◆ A built-in vacuum cleaner inside Honda’s Odyssey to clean up messes.

◆ Hands-free liftgate on the Ford Escape and launching on the 2015 Cadillac Escalade, activated by foot to make it easier to access the back of the vehicle when loaded down with groceries or packages.

Organizers will offer manicures at the show, and Ford will give away breast cancer awareness scarves on Women’s Day, which is Tuesday.

“Since 2010, women outnumber men behind the wheel,” said JoAnn Heck, director of consumer and market insights at Chrysler Group. “The number of women who are their family’s sole or primary breadwinner also has soared.
. . . They buy, lease, drive and influence the purchase of a large portion of vehicles.”  

Indeed, auto show representatives say women influence 85 percent of vehicle purchases.

“If we don’t get it right for women, forget it; you’ve ignored most of your market that are making decisions,” said Kara Gordon, an engineer at General Motors.

At GM, multiple cup holders in the rear and USB ports for backseat passengers to charge their phones, video games systems and tablet computers are among features added on vehicles with women in mind, said Fred Ligouri, GM spokesman.

Perimeter lighting features that automatically turn on when hitting the lock and unlock button were also meant to appeal to women, he said.

Ford representatives say a passive entry/passive start system available on its vehicles, which automatically unlocks the vehicle as you approach and can start it without a key, is among its women-friendly features. The company also offers adjustable pedals.

The Toyota Sienna minivan is extra family-friendly in offering a DVD entertainment system with a 16.4-inch dual screen that can show two movies or two games, said spokesman Curtis McAllister.

The most important factors for female vehicle shoppers are affordability, fuel efficiency, safety and driving performance, according to surveys by Kelley Blue Book.

“Women tend to want practicality, a good price, really great colors and styling,” said Tara Weingarten, founder of vroomgirls.com, a website targeting female drivers. “We appreciate really nice fabrics and beautiful lines in a car.”

Having a vehicle that’s fun to drive also is important, said Amy Marentic, group marketing manager at Ford. “Women’s definition of fun to drive [is]: ‘How do I look in the vehicle when I’m driving? How do I feel when I walk away from that vehicle or when I approach that vehicle, does it make me feel proud?’ ” she said.

Cadillac has zeroed in on the pride thing. One of its TV commercials features a smiling, professional-looking mom picking up her child in the new Cadillac SRX crossover. The vehicle prompts dads’ heads to turn. As they stare at it, the song “Stacy’s Mom” — with the line “Stacy’s mom has got it going on” — plays in the background.

Cadillac has been creative in trying to reach potential female luxury buyers. Last year, it selected high-end restaurants in five cities where reservations were typically hard to get, including Chicago’s Perennial Virant, said Melody Lee, Cadillac’s director of brand and reputation strategy. Cadillac reserved the restaurants for a night and invited prospective female customers to have dinner, take a drive in the Cadillac ATS and get a ride back to their cars in an Escalade, she said.

Across the luxury vehicle space, more men are buying today, “but if you take a look at all the data out there, those numbers are shifting,” Lee said. “You can tell that the tides are changing.”

Email: fknowles@suntimes.com
Twitter: @KnowlesFran



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