Chicago Auto Show Reaches out to Women Car Buyers

By Xuanyan Ouyang

The Chicago Auto Show makes it clear that women consumers are bringing new opportunities and transformation to the automotive industry.

Tuesday marked Women’s Day at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place. With a networking hour, presentations by trailblazing women, a musical performance and the ChicagonistaLive Talk Show, the Auto Show integrates Women Driving Excellence, a program featuring successful women who inspire others to make progress.

“The female market is very important to the auto industry,” said Dave Sloan, president and general manager of the Auto Show. “Auto shows have typically and historically been dominated by males. It’s been a higher share of males attending the shows than women. So for the past quite a few years we are trying to even out that statistic.”

The women-friendly strategies work well for the Chicago Auto Show. The Show’s website states that women comprised 44 percent of people attending last year. The Chicago Auto Show has consistently been highest in terms of female attendees, according to Foresight Research, a Michigan market research and consulting firm.

“To get 40 percent-60 percent women, that is a very, very big deal,” said Mark Bilek, senior director of communications and technology for the Chicago Auto Show. “But then at the same time Women’s Day has grown from just about helping women understand cars to creating a forum for women in the business community to discuss business issues and automotive issues. ”

 Dee Alexander, a song stylist, spoke during the Women’s Day at the Chicago Auto Show.
Dee Alexander, a song stylist, spoke during the Women’s Day at the Chicago Auto Show.

Forbes reported in 2014 that women influence 80 percent of car purchase decisions. Also in 2014 Frost & Sullivan, a research and consulting firm, determined that the number of women with driver’s licenses reached 51 percent, for the first time overtaking men in that respect.

“To some extent, every day is women’s day at the Auto Show,” said Bilek, “because automakers court women so heavily in today’s advertising and marketing, because they understand that women have such an influence in the purchase decision. So it will be silly for a company or an auto show to only target towards men.”

Taria Tuccio, a human resources consultant, chose to attend the Women Driving Excellence presentations before going to the show. She said this is her second year coming to the Auto Show, partly driven by the Women’s Day.

“So this is kind of a way to combine the efforts of coming to see the Auto Show and experience different things affecting women in Chicago,” said Tuccio.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute reported that car ownership has a high chance of decreasing in the future with the advancement of driverless cars and the influence of the share economy. The report says that “in the most extreme hypothetical scenario,” these new trends “could reduce the average ownership rate by 43% (from 2.1 to 1.2 vehicles per household).” Studies also show that men are driving less while women are doing more driving.

Inspecting a car at the Chicago Auto Show.

“I probably will have a lot more influence because I drive more,” said Shevawn Hyatt, who was testing a car with her husband. She shares a car with him, and normally she drives the car to work while her husband will take the train “because we just have one car.”

Automakers are working on attracting female customers. They are increasing the number of women car dealers, and training sales people to cater to women car buyers.

David Scumidt, a product specialist at the Auto Show for Hyundai, said since the first day that he got into the auto business three years ago he has received training to recognize the purchasing power of women and to involve women attendees in the conversation.

“I think the industry is doing a better job. Is it doing a good job yet? I’m not sure. Everybody defines that differently,” Scumidt said. “If you want to be smart about the way you are marketing and selling your products, you’re going to make sure you include the females in the buying decision.”


Photo at top: Women’s Day at the Chicago Auto Show. (Xuanyan Ouyang/MEDILL)