What Drives Her… to Buy a Car. Or To Walk Away?

The car industry understands the importance of female buyers — and new research shows how they can make the process of buying a car more comfortable for you.

Red Acura
Are you buying a car in 2023? Photo: Jill Robbins

You Know, and Now, So Does the Auto Industry

Do your palms sweat when you walk into a car dealership? Have you been driving the same tin box on wheels since the early ‘90s because you dread the thought of buying a new car? And if you are set on buying a car, do you feel completely overwhelmed by all the options out there?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re in good company with a lot of women.

Women influence 85% of car-buying decisions, so the automotive industry knows just how important we are when it comes to selling cars. That’s why they’ve spent the last several years striving to understand what women are looking for. (Ever noticed how many female product specialists there are at auto shows? That’s on purpose.)

More than anything, they want to know: What drives women to buy cars?

A group of female executives recently met for a  discussion moderate by Kathy Gilbert of CDK Global to share data and research on female car buyers at the 2024 Chicago Auto Show. And the answers were pretty eye-opening.

Related: What To See At The 2024 Chicago Auto Show

Car Buying Mistakes

Make the test drive work for you. ?Shutterstock

Women Don’t Want to Be Pressured to Buy a Car

If you’ve ever wondered why auto shows are important, panelist Amy Emmatty, the Chief Revenue Officer of Productions Plus, shed some light on this subject. Emmatty’s company surveyed over 2,700 attendees from the 2023 Chicago Auto Show, and when it came to listing their favorite part of the experience, seeing the latest/greatest vehicles was the top choice.

But 28% of men and 34% of women said that “no pressure salespeople” was the second-highest draw. That’s the beauty of an auto show — you can’t buy a car directly from any of the brand representatives, so you don’t have to worry about any pushy sales tactics.

Related: Top 10 Car Buying Mistakes

What Drives Her Panel Discuss What Drives Her To Buy A Car

What Drives Her Panel L-R Kathy Gilbert, Amy Emmatty, Trisha Jung and Trudy Hardy. Photo: Scotty Reiss

But They Appreciate Experts Who Can Answer Questions

This next one might be slightly more surprising. When the survey asked how women preferred to learn about new automotive technology, the answer wasn’t what Emmatty expected. Just 29% of women said they preferred to learn online while 55% said they wanted to learn in-person at the auto show. That says something about the importance of face-to-face interaction when it comes to buying a car.

“Clearly online information is a resource, but it can’t just be online,” Emmatty says. “It’s about that interaction, that experience here at the show.”

Related: Need New Car? Here’s the Car Buying Checklist You Need

Being Able to See Multiple Brands in One Place Helps

There are only so many Saturdays in a year, and nobody’s got time to run around to every different dealership in the city to compare the top brands and models — least of all, busy women. So it’s not surprising that one of the main reasons people come to auto shows is to shop with multiple brands in one place. 70% of the survey respondents said this was true for them.)

In one section of the convention center you can climb inside a Kia EV9 and then 30 steps later, you might be scoping out a Grand Highlander in the Toyota zone. Ah, but maybe you want to compare those interiors with the Chevrolet Suburban? No worries! That’s just on the other side of the room.

The way to a woman’s heart? Convenience.

Front View Of The 2024 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition

Front view of the 2024 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek. Photo Chastity Velasquez

Knowledge Can Curb Anxiety

Buying a car is no small purchase, and that’s probably why there are a lot of emotions tied to the process. Emmatty shared that 40% of survey respondents planned to buy a car within the next year, but a majority of the female respondents were apprehensive, nervous or anxious about it. If you fall into that category yourself, Emmatty has a suggestion.

“If you’re a little anxious, you’re a little apprehensive, maybe you need to learn more about the product you’re buying and that can help ease some of those feelings,” she said.

For example, panelist Trisha Jung, Senior Director for EV Strategy and Transformation at Nissan, shared that only a third of women (33%) are considering an EV for their next vehicle. But that may be due to a knowledge gap about the product. 34% of women said they weren’t confident in their knowledge of EVs, more than half (53%) had never been inside an EV and almost half (47%) said that they thought EV charging sounded difficult.

Jung’s advice for women who fall into any of these categories? Do your research.

“We as women, we really value information from outside sources,” she said. “We’re going to do everything we can as a company to give you information, but I also think there’s a lot of great reputable sources through social media — other people that you can see that represent your lifestyle.”

If something appears to work for someone with a similar lifestyle, maybe it will work for you, too, Jung says. And sometimes you just have to give something a try before you know if it’s the right fit.

“That’s been a big thing with electric vehicles all along. Once somebody experiences it…they love it.”

And, of course, auto shows are another valuable resource for gaining information.

“As you walk around the show, ask questions,” Kathy Gilbert advised. “Take a moment to really look at what’s there, even if it’s not (a car) that’s on your bucket list.”

Related: How Women Are Driving Change as Consumers and Leaders

Scotty Reiss With The Bmw X7

Scotty Reiss with the BMW X7. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Times Are Changing — Hopefully For the Better

Rest assured that the automotive industry has and will continue to make improvements to ease your car-buying stresses. In everything they do, they’re keeping you — their key influencers — in mind.

“Even the way that we integrate our female product geniuses at an auto show, the way that we employ women at an auto show, has changed substantially,” panelist Trudy Hardy, Vice President and Region Americas Head of BMW Motorrad explained.

“We (as women) research differently, we shop differently, we expect different experiences… and it’s important that we deliver on those and that we make a woman feel comfortable along the entire purchase path.”

Nissan, in particular, is a good example of a brand that’s leading the charge to make trying, buying and owning an EV easier. Recognizing that women were anxious about how and where to charge these vehicles, they partnered with public charging networks to increase access to charging stations. They also hired women designers to help create a lounge-like feeling on the inside of an EV, complete with big windows, an open/airy interior, a moonroof, warm colors and soft-touch surfaces to enhance the cabin experience.

“We want to make sure that the customer is getting everything they’re looking for in their purchase,” Jung said.

So, as you venture out to buy a car this year or sometime in the future, take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one learning as you go. Over time, you can expect even more female retailers and product specialists to crop up, and they’ll be ready to assist you with whatever questions and needs you may have.

“Education is key for shoppers and also for us as leaders with where we are in automotive,” Hardy said.

Who knows? Maybe one day you will be the one answering all the questions and pointing others in the right direction.

Allison is a freelance writer, a mother of two, and the wife of a car-obsessed husband who got her... More about Allison Bell