BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Battle of the Sexes - Luxury Travel Magazine
Battle of the Sexes
|By: Peter McKay, Issue 17 – Summer 2004|
|(luxury cars, men and women, different)|
|WHEN IT COMES TO LUXURY CARS, MEN AND WOMEN WANT VERY DIFFERENT THINGS – BUT THE TOP BRANDS AND THEIR DESIGNERS ARE RISING TO THE CHALLENGE.|
|Men are the hunters, women the homemakers. That’s the historical and traditional view of the roles of the sexes – much muddied and massaged by massive changes in modern society – and a positioning statement that today would be laughed at not only by Germaine Greer but, probably, Jamie Oliver. But an irrefutable part of that old gender pigeon-holing is that flashy performance cars were almost exclusively toys for the well-heeled, hardly-coy boys about town. A study published earlier this year found that men will do almost anything to put their wealth and/or strength on display and this very much includes buying expensive fast cars. It’s all part of the mating ritual. The increasing interest by women in fast cars and even the machismo-flavoured urban ute suggests females are driving headlong away from that hoary old type-casting – and if they’re going to chase men, surely it’s easier to do so in a Maserati GT or Mazda6 than a Hyundai Accent. More women are racing away from their old shopping econo-car stereotypes, preferring to drive fast cars, and, dare we say, with a little more joie de vivre and panache than that deployed by their seen-but-not-heard grandmothers. Marketers report that dependable and functional vehicles – Corollas, Pulsars, Barinas and Echos – are being traded for more powerful, stylish and usually expensive sporty models. As in the fashion world, brands are important. The growing popularity of fast cars among women has led 21 per cent of those who own them putting off having a lavish wedding and 11 per cent postponing having children in order to pay for them, according to research by British insurance company, Privilege.|
Luxury car makers are also recognising the social-economic realities of there being more women in the workplace than even 15 years ago, and that many are pulling big salaries. But no vehicle models appear to be designed expressly for women. On the contrary, anyone who creates a car purely to appeal to females can expect failure. “A guaranteed way of not succeeding with a female clientele in the luxury market is to try to create female-only cars,” said BMW’s John Kananghinis, adding that BMW’s focus is on providing cars with ‘universally attractive’ features which appeal to both genders but also subtly incorporate specific features that appeal in different degrees to the opposite sexes. A survey on the importance of features in new cars reveals surprisingly few differences in the priorities of male and female buyers of affordable models. Value for money tops both lists, followed by seating comfort. The third most important feature for blokes is legroom, while women place greater importance on the reputation of the brand. Further down the pecking order, fuel economy is sixth for men but 20th for women. The car’s colour comes in at sixth for women; men put it a lowly 25th. Practical things like visibility score equally (5th) for both sexes but males are prepared to cope with some gymnastics getting in and out of their cars. Ease of entry/exit is 12th for the ladies; 40th for the men. Predictably blokey ingredients – performance and acceleration – rate 13th for males, 10 places higher than for women.
Part of the reason cars are not outwardly gender specific is that some young women are behaving more like young men, says the director of the Women’s Health Australia study, Professor Annette Dobson. While there are still not great numbers of successful women in motor sport, there is growing evidence that females are no longer content to bounce along in traffic snarls in their little hatchbacks, letting the fellas have all the fun in their flashy, high-calibre sports machines. As recently as a decade ago, women simply did not own Porsches. Now, says Porsche Cars Australia’s sales and marketing chief Michael Bartsch, Boxster sales to women are better than one in four, and one in every 10 buyers of the iconic 911 range is female. Vehicle choice is becoming increasingly gender neutral and mindset driven, observes Bartsch, who is happy to welcome women to the fold.
Porsche is not the only expensive motoring brand watching as women develop a passion for speed and self indulgence, both here and in other developed western societies. The female lunge at more luxurious, often faster, cars has also been tracked by Mercedes-Benz Australia. Today, nearly one in three of all Benzes is bought by a woman. And the numbers of females driving Benzes is certainly higher than that, tending to favour the C Class, Sports Coupe, CLK and the M-Class off-roader. Lexus, which has only been on the scene since 1990, is sensitive to growing female-buying clout, too. It used last year’s ritzy Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington and Flying Colours Fashion Parade in the Sydney and Melbourne Qantas lounges as a promotional avenue to increase Lexus brand awareness among the female audience. Women account for 22 per cent of its most affordable car, the IS200/300, and early indications are that the new RX330 soft-roader is attracting a higher than usual female interest, largely because of its many cutting-edge safety features. BMW has a similar story to tell with more than 40 per cent female ownership in the 3 Series and an increase in the higher powered models, particularly the 330Ci convertible and the 330Ci coupe. BMW also has a smaller, if fanatical, clientele of female owners of the highly desirable M3 but male buyers still dominate at the acutely sporty and gilt-edged end of the market. Only one in 20 Maserati new model sales go to women but the local importer has developed an inclusive strategy with the stunning new $370,000ish Quattroporte saloon, offering with every purchase two business class tickets to Modena, where the clients sit down with craftsmen to specify every element of the car’s bespoke tailoring. Acknowledging that women also have a strong say in the family and how its money is spent, Maserati Australia has tailored the trip for both men and women. The men can do the factory visit, then do the Master GT driving course, while the women can give their Amex cards a workout in nearby Milan or Florence. A perfect arrangement.