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Women Dominate Car-Buying Decisions; Few Hold Auto Executive Jobs


As the LA auto show opens to the public this weekend, it so happens that the vast majority of car buying decisions are made by women. Yet, they still represent a very small portion of auto executives. NPR's Sonari Glinton sat down with a group of industry women and filed this reporter's notebook.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: When you go to one of the big car shows, besides all the shiny cars and shiny models standing by cars, you notice not a lot of minorities and not a lot of women. Rebecca Lindland is an analyst with KBB.com. She's one of the industry insiders I spoke with about the role of women in the car business. Lindland tells this story about the power of women in the car world.

REBECCA LINDLAND: I was working with some people in Saudi Arabia where I was living, and I was talking to one of the ministers of the economy. And he - in Saudi Arabia where women aren't even allowed to drive, he says to me, he goes, who are you kidding? My wife picked out the car. I had nothing to do with it (laughter). And so, even there, like, I think we really underestimate how - the influence that women have.

GLINTON: Women play the leading role in 85 percent of auto purchases. Scotty Reiss founded She Buys Cars, an online community of women and their automobiles. Reiss says, when it comes to cars, men fall in love with the promise they see on Sunday football.

SCOTTY REISS: Women fall in love with the needs that they have and they search to have those needs filled. They look for economy, they look for comfort, for their second row and third row passengers. They look for charging capabilities for devices in the second and third row. You don't see that advertised on Sunday football.

GLINTON: Reiss says, regardless of gender, buyers want safety, style, functionality, and price. Jessica Caldwell is with Edmunds.com. She says, the companies know women spend more time researching their car purchases and...

JESSICA CALDWELL: If you just look at a split, guys tend to, you know, buy, you know, larger cars, trucks. Most exotics are purchased by men. I don't think that's any surprise. So yeah, there is a bit of a difference, but I say to categorize women buyers what they actually buy in reality are generally a little bit more pragmatic than men.

GLINTON: While women are the deciders when it comes to buying cars, not so much when it comes to making them. According to estimates, about 17 percent of car industry jobs are held by women. Caldwell says, even though it's getting better, often the lack of women is apparent in design.

CALDWELL: The thing that guys would always talk about is that women need a space for their purses. And then they would design this really tiny space between the passenger seat and the driver seat and it would always be way too small. And it was something that it's like, oh, clearly a man designed that.

GLINTON: Caldwell points out in many ways the new category of compact SUV was created to fit the needs of the female drivers. Michelle Krebs is with Autotrader.com. She spent most of her career in and around automobiles.

MICHELLE KREBS: I think the industry has improved immensely. And it's like, wow, it is incredible the number of women that have gotten into the industry and risen through the ranks. So that has changed hugely.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Scotty Reiss of She Buys Cars, says the industry can do much more to attract women to career opportunities in automotive. There's design, finance, even health care. All are a part of the industry. You don't have to be an engineer.

REISS: You have to have a creative outlook, an open mind and want to be part of this very exciting industry. And you don't have to live in Detroit either because automotive is everywhere.

KREBS: There's nothing wrong with Detroit.

GLINTON: And Rebecca Lindland says, we're likely to see the industry change as its consumers, especially women, change as well.

LINDLAND: Single women households are some of the fastest-growing households in the country. And we need to reward ourselves. You know what? I work my butt off. I'm going to drive home in a luxury vehicle. I'm going to treat myself. It's rewarding ourselves.

GLINTON: All right, we heard it from the experts. Treat yourself. Sonari Glinton, NPR news, Culver City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.