- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

Media reports say that General Motors is setting up a team to aggressively promote its products to female, black, Hispanic and Asian vehicle buyers in the United States, noting that these are the markets where GM products are most "underrepresented."

The automaker, whose U.S. market share has slid to about 30 percent, has set up the Center of Expertise on Diversity to increase GM's understanding of multicultural consumers.

It appears that GM finally is recognizing a vast buyer potential long overlooked.

So here's some advice to GM about women. It's true that in the not-too-distant past, women would walk into a car dealer's showroom and be ignored. They were not taken seriously as customers. Hard to say why their money was just as green. Skip the commentary on the social dynamics of the era and fast forward.

Women today command notice. They make up a good chunk of the new-car buying public (at least 35 percent) and hold sway over family vehicle purchases. One recent study found 23 percent of American women now make more money than their husbands.

But they still are being insulted, albeit in more subtle ways. Instead of dealing with their car interests on equal terms with men's (styling, horsepower, luxury, durability, good value), automakers feel compelled to pander to what they perceive as the female "softer side."

Thus, we have sex-sensitive cute-utes (RAV 4, Honda CR-V), plus a plethora of small sedans the Mazda Protege, Dodge Neon (Hi), Mercury Cougar, VW Cabriolet, Pontiac Sunfire and anything Honda or Saturn. Not that there's anything wrong with that, except women and their car preferences are becoming ghettoized.

How many times have you overheard some guy say he would never buy that car because it's a chick car. OK. Some women, especially very young women, do buy sensible small-budget vehicles. But it has far more to do with what they can afford than what they desire.

Many women gladly would take a Porsche Boxster, Ford F-150 or Jeep Grand Cherokee something fast and sporty, big and durable, or genuinely rugged. Conversely, women who wish to buy dainty cars they can hug should be able to do so without stigma.

Interestingly, a recent study on women and vehicle purchases from 1995-2000 done by Polk Co., which tracks vehicle statistics, shows Korean automakers Hyundai, Daewoo and Kia are among the value brands doing the best job of appealing to female buyers.

But the study also shows that in the last five years, upscale Jaguar has seen sales to women jump to 31 percent from 22 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, truck maker Isuzu's sport utility vehicle sales to women have improved from 29 percent to 35 percent. So there you have it, GM. Go figure.

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