Report | June 22nd, 2019

What's driving sexism in the automotive industry?

Kurt Stuhllemmer
Women driving a pink car
02 Women also buy cars 1024x427

Women also buy cars

Decision to buy a new car

of women are jointly or solely responsible for making the decision to buy a new car and play a part in deciding which car to purchase

Not only are women in the UK buying more new cars and influencing purchasing decisions more than ever before, they are doing so at a younger age, particularly within families. When buying as a couple, 89% of women are jointly or solely responsible for making the decision to buy a new car and play a part in deciding which car to purchase.

How you choose to sell to each gender is where the finesse lies. Generalising women's needs, even if it is through unconscious bias, is a mistake. As Etta Pearce, CEO of Autotrader’s Dealer Auction brand says: “Why, in today’s challenging marketplace where every sale counts, are we still failing to market to women correctly?”

Why, in today’s challenging marketplace where every sale counts, are we still failing to market to women correctly?

Etta Pearce, CEO of Autotrader's Dealer Auction

It is true that people choose cars for a whole host of reasons including looks, space, practicality, safety, performance and efficiency, irrespective of whether they are men or women. How they come to those decisions, however, can be influenced by gender.

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Automotive advertising doesn’t speak to women

Yet advertising and communications still rely on old-fashioned expectations about what attracts buyers: wide open roads that suit top speeds, dramatic Scandi backdrops, dashboard technology that looks like it came straight out of the latest superhero movie. Even much-lauded attempts at making the school run look attractive are fronted by men. Advertising religiously continues to stick to these tropes, despite recent figures suggesting 87% of all people claim to feel increasingly disconnected from car marketing, with images of slick cars threading their way down miles of tarmac failing to provide a human connection.

The number of female car buyers has risen by 20% over the last decade to reach 11.8 million

Women car ownership

Other figures show that women are particularly dissatisfied with advertising, with 71% saying that car adverts didn’t speak to them and almost three quarters put off buying a car due to how misrepresented they are in advertising. On top of this three quarters of all consumers thought that car adverts are guilty of personifying gender stereotypes and 9/10 thought they are ‘too masculine’. This seems surprising given that more than a third of cars in the UK are registered to women and that the number of female car buyers has risen by 20% over the last decade to reach 11.8 million, whereas the number of male car buyers has risen by just half of that.

The truth is, much of advertising is based on assumptions, instead of understanding. Predicting what people want, instead of knowing. Talking to women in the way that they want, not in the way that men think that they want.

04 Why women dont trust car manufacturers and dealerships 1024x427

Women don’t trust car manufacturers and dealerships

Unconscious bias does not limit itself to advertising and is prevalent at all interactions between customers and manufacturers. This means that the car industry is not only putting off potential buyers through their advertising, it is failing to recognise the flaws in the current car buying process. Car dealerships are not always welcoming to women, and women often feel like they are struggling to be taken seriously in a sales environment dominated by men.

There is a disconnect and lack of trust between female buyers and car manufacturers, with an incredible 94% of women saying they don’t trust car dealerships, 83% of women saying they don’t trust manufacturers and only 22% of women saying they feel confident about going out to buy a new car.


of women saying that they
don't trust car


of women saying they
don't trust


of women are put off
buying a car due to
advertising misrepresentation

And it’s not hard to see why when the people we know and work with have first-hand experience of the difficulties of car purchasing. Amanda is a Strategist at Hall & Partners who recently bought a car. Sadly, her experience is typical. In a South London motor dealership, she and her husband were met by a female receptionist whose task was to meet and greet, and who had no knowledge about the cars on offer. When the salesman arrived, he only spoke to Amanda’s partner. When it came to the actual test drive the keys were handed to him and the conversation was directed at him, all of which left Amanda feeling as though she was just the partner of a man buying a car, despite being a joint purchaser. Unfortunately, Amanda is one of 15% of women who have been actively ignored by a car dealership salesperson.

Walking onto the forecourt is still a man’s domain, both in terms of selling and buying, with women making up less than 10% of the selling team. Thus, tracking the experience in granular detail is vital if the industry is to craft more relevant messaging and improve the experience not just of driving a car but buying one.

Thus, the culture of car-buying is a crucial element that the industry needs to reassess if it is to engage more effectively with audiences that, currently, still feel marginalised. It’s why so many brands are using pop-up ‘showrooms’ or ‘shops’ in places such as health clubs and shopping centres, stressing the lifestyle elements of car-buying rather than the more traditional ‘getting from A to B’ message.

Its still a mans world 1024x427

It's still a man’s world…

This is just a symptom of a wider problem. There is a lack of women in the automotive industry at all stages of the car life-cycle, from the design and manufacture to the sale. It is true that more leadership roles are going to women such as Michelle Christensen, the first female lead exterior designer of a supercar for the Acura NSX, and Mary Barra, the first female CEO of a major global car manufacturer with General Motors.

But these women are still in the minority. A quick Google search of the most influential people in the automotive industry will bring up streams of lists. Pick on any of these and you will see a long list of men with a smattering of women dotted in, or a short list devoid of any women. Even Barack Obama was rated 19th in one list but the highest rated woman, Barb Samardzich (head of Ford Europe Product Design) managed to place 34th.

Women and car industry

Women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 17% more likely to be killed, in car crashes

And whilst high-profile female voices are very welcome, many feel that more needs to be done. Not including female voices has led to fundamental issues in car design. Women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 17% more likely to be killed, in car crashes as a direct result of basing crash test dummies on the 50th percentile man and classing the seat position women use whilst driving as ‘abnormal’. Perhaps it is time for car manufacturers to realise that cars should be designed to ensure everyone’s safety – including women, pregnant women specifically, and both men and women who are overweight.

These aren’t just challenges – they are opportunities. If so many women feel neglected by advertising and mistreated in car dealerships, yet even more want to be a part of the car-buying process, all of those involved need to understand the customer more completely.

Hall & Partners can help you clarify what consumers are looking for in advertising, what puts off consumers in the advertising that is currently out there, and how you can reconnect with your customers. Diversity and inclusion should start with consumer interaction with the brand, both in the show room and in advertisements.