Believe it or get left behind: women determine 90 per cent of all car sales. What do they look for in their wheels? And are automakers in India ready to pamper the fair sex? Indu Prasad reports
id you know that the Boxster, inspite of being marketed as a
male sports car, is bought by more women than men? Or that, way back in 1955, Daimler became the first automaker to customise a car for women? The \u2018104 Ladies Model\u2019 came with a cosmetic pack, fitted luggage, an umbrella, and even a shooting stick! Soon after, Dodge intro- duced the La Femme, a pink car with cosmetic cabinets built into the seats. While only 50 Ladies Models were sold, the La Femme didn\u2019t do too well either. That\u2019s probably because most customers were men
Now, though, things are sig- nificantly different. Over 50 per cent of all car sales are made by women and a massive 90 per cent of all car choices are determined by women. Are au- tomakers listening? They have to do a great deal more than add that token vanity mirror to woo the women. We decided to take a look at what women want in cars, and how well manufacturers are responding to their requirements. Beyond the vehicle itself, we also asked women what they expect from automakers so that the buying of a car can be a pleasant ex- perience.
that most women we spoke to wanted. This, we found, also reflects global trends in what women want in cars. A survey by LeaseTrader.com, conducted in October last, listed \u2018Fold- down back seats for more storage room\u2019 as the feature they liked best.
\u201cIt isn\u2019t just that women need more space for shopping bags, extra storage is useful for everything. Like I use the back of my Ford Ikon to carry my sitar to my class every Saturday. I wouldn\u2019t have been able to do that with the Hyundai Santro I had earlier,\u201d says Shylaja Raj,
\u201cI travel with my 10-month- old and, like with all babies, I have to carry his food, change of clothes/diapers, pram\u2026 plus I need to strap him onto the car seat. My Swift, with no airbags in the front, is ideal because it has lots of space in the back for the baby luggage and the passenger seat is perfect for my son\u2019s car seat,\u201d says Uma Subramanian, a media pro- fessional.
feature which won repeated appreciation. As in the case of Mamatha, who owns a Hyundai Getz, and feels that it
the backseat without hitting anything? The answer is gull-wing doors that gave wider access to the rear space.
purpose. Similarly the windshield washer fluid is filled through a valve next to the gas valve, since most women said that that was the only reason they went under the hood.
By the way, the ladies finished the entire exercise in just 15 months at less than US$ 3.3 million, the tightest budget and quickest turn-around for any Volvo prototype!
Then there have been surveys like the one conducted by LeaseTrader.com that lists the top five things that women want in their cars:
In another study, NewCarBuyingGuide.com discov- ered the finer touches that go into making a woman- friendly car:
In fact, it was in view of the increasing numbers of women customers that Ford and the other pick-up truck makers in the US added a whole lot of features like smoother automatic transmissions and easy-shift manual transmissions, power windows, leather seats, a softer ride than the traditional rough truck drive, additional air bags, and even rectangular cup holders to accommodate juice boxes. The result, soft off- roaders like the successful Ford F-Series and the Chevrolet Silverado.
was the best choice for both of them because, \u201cMy husband is 6\u20194\u201d and I am 5\u20193\u201d. We needed a car that both of us would be comfortable in and the Getz, with its adjustable seats, was perfect.\u201d
crucial factor for women car buyers. \u201cI learned driving rather late and I am still nervous when I have to drive back home after dark,\u201d says Jyoti, a bank employee who has recently bought a car. \u201cMost of the time, it\u2019s my husband who drives. But when I have to, I always use the central locking system. Plus, I am a relatively new driver, so I like to know that our Honda City has airbags, which will protect us in case of an accident.\u201d
fourth in this survey. Uma, Shylaja and Madhuri Bhat, a marketing professional from Mumbai, all vote for faux leather. \u201cThere are ink spills from my son\u2019s school bag, sometimes vegetable stains or even mud in the rains\u2026 and washing off regular upholstery fabric is really painful. So the first opportunity I got, I changed my seats to leather. You get these really efficient leather cleaners in fuel bunks, so I don\u2019t have to go look for them either,\u201d explains Madhuri.
that most auto makers say women like, were mentioned often as well. \u201cThere are two things I can\u2019t do too well - navigate well while reversing, and parallel parking,\u201d says Nisha Chandra, creative director at an ad agency. \u201cSometimes, I would take 15 minutes to park my old car and even then I would leave one end sticking out because, after a point, I just got tired of battling with the steering wheel. So, when I shifted to my WagonR last year, power steering was one thing I needed. And in Mumbai\u2019s traffic, driving during peak hours is hell. I also wear heels to work. There are days when my ankles feel assaulted after I get home. I recently read that they are in- troducing the Santro automatic again. That is something I want to check out.\u201d
Hyundai and Maruti Suzuki are two companies that have recognised the reluctance of women to deal with service stations too often. To make matters easier, they have intro- duced pick-up and drop facili-
their cars serviced but don\u2019t really have the time or patience to get it done. \u201cWith a small baby, I hardly have the time to go drop off the car and list out what I
want checked or corrected,\u201d says Mamatha. \u201cThankfully, the Hyundai people even remind me when my car is due for servicing and they come and pick it up. With my husband away most of the time, that is one thing I really appreciate.\u201d
Similarly, Seema, who owns a WagonR and is a website content manager, says that since the time Maruti has introduced a separate servicing board for women, she doesn\u2019t have to wait too long when she goes in. \u201cSomeone immediately attends to me and there is this board on which they write out the womens\u2019 names and car numbers, followed by the time at which we can come and pick the vehicle. It feels special and, more importantly, it is so much quicker,\u201d she adds.
Bad advertising, most women said, was a turn-off. \u201cThe SX4 is a great car. But the ad just screams male, a very 1930s male. It just puts me off. I even went for a test drive in it when we were looking for our second car, but then we finally settled on the Optra,\u201d says Shylaja.
For Nisha, the attitude of the sales people determines to a large extent if the company is worth the trouble. \u201cWhen I was shopping around for my car, I visited Maruti, Hyundai, GM, even Merc! Not that I would buy a Merc but I expected to be treated like a potential customer. It was almost like they decided,
attention to any of my questions. I got a couple of brochures and that\u2019s it,\u201d she says.
For Uma, it was the ease of access that settled the question. Her Maruti dealer is two roads away, she says. So even though she quite liked the Chevrolet Spark, she opted for the Swift since the GM showroom was all
Other features that women wanted were in the realm of great value additions: a good music
system with iPod connectivity, tubeless tyres, power windows, central locking, and a utility space for small knickknacks\u2026
In their wishlist, \u201cRear parking sensors, pleeease,\u201d came from Uma and \u201cIs there anyway in which I can get non-woolly mats on the floor?\u201d Madhuri wanted to know. Seema suggested that, in sedans, the space between the rear seat and the rear wind- shield, \u201cwhere most people just keep stuffed toys,\u201d could instead be used for providing some nice, useful storage space.
Confirming our findings and the international surveys, P. Balendran, vice president of General Motors India says, \u201cPower steering is extremely well- accepted. Women drivers do indeed choose to pick cars with power steering as a majority, as it eases vehicle operation and provides comfort with only a marginal increase in fuel con- sumption.\u201d However, he adds that GM hasn\u2019t introduced any automatic transmission cars yet because the Indian market is wary of high-cost conveniences that affect the fuel economy of the car.
Women shop by touch and feel. Recognising this, Indian auto makers have started taking care with the finish of the metal, plastics and fabric in the interiors of their cars. Safety features, which take into account that most cars in India are meant for families rather than individuals, are also highly valued.
\u201cWe have found that conve- nience features in a car rate high with women owners - storage space in terms of cubby holes,
cup holders and boot space, and ergonomics that adjust to ease of driving. Other factors that play an important role are overall aes- thetics and quality of materials, along with safety features like child locks and seatbelts that take into consideration the family unit, ease of driving and parking, good all-round visibility and cost of maintenance and ownership,\u201d explains Balendran.
While this is a start in recog- nising women as potential buyers, the time, he points out is not yet right for a car that is com- pletely women-centric. \u201cThe growth what is happening is a recent phenomenon,\u201d he says. \u201cHaving said this, a manufac- turer has to keep the overall market considerations in mind - and the male car buyer forms the bigger part of the pie. But, in many cases, the car purchase is a joint decision and, therefore, it may not be a pre-requisite (to attempt a women-targeted car).\u201d
However, heartening numbers of women-centric schemes and offers have been introduced by automakers and banks - pick-up and drop off servicing facilities from Hyundai and Maruti, special driving schools equipped with hi-tech driving simulators by Maruti (where more than 52 per cent of the students are women), Axis Bank\u2019s special scheme for women who want to avail auto loans, and so on.
It still might not be time to bring back the La Femme, but it is def- initely time to move up and hand over the steering wheel (or in most cases, atleast the decision-making) to the woman. And, in the process, if cars get finer touches and more user-friendly features? Well, nobody\u2019s complaining!
India has nearly as many women on two wheels as men. In the \u201880s, the \u2018female\u2019 bikes were mostly mopeds - the TVS 50 and the Luna. The more enterprising women even tried the Bajaj Chetaks and LML Vespas. The \u201890s brought a revolution of sorts with the first Kinetic and, soon, the rest of the bike manufacturers dis- covered the latent potential for gearless scooters.
Ajinkya Firodia, senior vice president, sales and marketing, at the Kinetic Motor Company says, \u201cBetween 99-100 per cent of motorcycle buyers are men. There are many reasons why bikes are just not suitable for women riders. For example, the horizontal petrol tank in the front makes it impossible for a woman to sit in a rider position if she is wearing a dress, skirt or a sari. However, gearless scooters can be, and are, ridden by men as well as women. Pretty much 100 per cent of women riders use gearless scooters; nearly 100 per cent bikes are ridden by men but there are male buyers of gearless scooters also. My estimate is that, currently, the gearless scooter market (overall) is split as 60 per cent female and 40 per cent male.\u201d
It isn\u2019t just the ease of riding, it\u2019s the addition- al features of gearless scooters that attract the women. Like we found in our survey for the March issue (http://epaper.wheelsun-
scooters prefer lighter and smaller build for ease of handling, brighter colours, and storage space under the seat and in the glove com- partment. They also appreciated value additions like mobile chargers, front fuelling, under-seat lighting, and magnetic keys for anti-theft locks, instead of considering them gimmicks. BHP or torque, the mainstay of most geared bikes, was rarely mentioned.
Explaning this, Firodia says, \u201cWomen (and the 40 per cent men) prefer gearless scooters because they offer far greater convenience than bikes - push button start, gearless riding, load carrying, and lower centre of gravity, make them easier to ride, handle, park, etc. Today\u2019s new-age scooters, such as our 125cc Flyte, offer even greater convenience with front-fueling, central locking, mobile charging, bag hooks, and large and lighted storage. They also combine it with strong technology and performance - telescopic suspension, excellent ride, handling and braking, and high fuel efficiency.\u201d
Firodia says that the heightened interest in gearless scooters is part of a global phenomenon where, \u201cAs countries prosper, roads improve and disposable income increases, riders move away from motorcycles to gearless scooters. We are seeing the beginning of that trend, with a drop in bike sales and growth in scooter sales.\u201d For their part, two wheeler companies ensure that gearless scooters are marketed for women. Brighter colours, lighter build, even the ad- vertising and brand ambassadors are chosen carefully to send out the right message. \u201cThe Kinetic SYM Flyte is designed to be ideal for women. Our advertising campaign (featuring Bipasha Basu as today\u2019s modern and confident young woman) also directly talks to women riders,\u201d says Firodia. Sometimes, it\u2019s a woman\u2019s world that we inhabit.
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