THE BLOG
06/15/2016 03:04 pm ET Updated Jun 15, 2017

Women Are A Driving Force in the Auto Market

During the past few years, women have transformed the face of the automotive industry -- and those changes are here to stay. The process has been slow, but women are starting to gain ground as consumers and workers in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and brands should be taking note.

A recent study, by research company MaritzCX, showed that from 2010 to 2015 the number of women who bought non-premium small SUV models rose 34 percent, compared to a 22 percent rise for men. The study, as reported by Bloomberg, also found that a large number of these women -- about 40 percent -- were single and more than two-thirds said the car-buying decision was entirely up to them.

This study complements consulting firm Frost & Sullivan's 2014 findings, which indicated that for the first time ever in the U.S., female driving license holders had tipped the balance at 51 percent.

However, women are buying more than just small SUVs. These days, they are also going after sports cars. According to news reports, the Ford Mustang was the best-selling sports car among women in the United States in 2015. The brand held a 36 percent share of the female sports car market last year.

Contrary to popular belief, women have dominated car-buying decisions for quite some time. Some figures show that they lead at least 80 percent of all vehicle purchases, including having veto power over their partner's choice. This is certainly an impressive number. So, how is this shift in demographics impacting automakers, dealerships and even repair shops?

Not only has women's spending power today helped change how the automotive industry views and markets to them, women themselves are acting as the drivers behind this shift.

More and more, women are taking the lead and providing a growing number of digital resources to other women to educate them about cars, guide them through the buying process, teach them how to properly care for their vehicles, and ultimately empower them as car owners. For instance, Audra Fordin, the owner of Great Bear Auto Repair and Auto Body Shop in Flushing, New York, has gained popularity in recent years through her non-profit "Women Auto Know," which looks to make women feel comfortable with auto maintenance through tutorials and free monthly DIY repair workshops. Fordin's story has been featured in numerous national media outlets.

Resources for women have also gone mobile. Blitzfy is a new app that gives female motorists the ability to search for an auto service quote anonymously, confirm a price, read reviews and testimonials from competing companies and check ratings of services. The app works on mobile phones and computers.

Auto companies are also revamping their marketing efforts as well as changing their corporate culture to appeal to this target group. A perfect example is Mercedes Benz--besides sponsoring events like Fashion Week, the brand launched the "She's Mercedes" platform, whose mission is "inspiring, connecting and empowering women to unleash their best." This initiative, which aims to increase the number of female customers in the next four years, is part of the 'Mercedes-Benz 2020 - Best Customer Experience' strategy. Its focus is on achieving growth by aligning sales and marketing with ever-evolving customer needs.

This shift has been obvious from my perch at Driven Brands, where our brands recognized long ago the need to grow and develop women's presence in the automotive franchise system. Husband-wife teams own many of Driven Brands' businesses and women are very involved, whether in bookkeeping, the front office or running the overall operation. To address their needs, we created the Female Franchisee Council, a group made up of the wives of franchise owners in 2015. The council gives women a platform to network, get together and express their needs and wants. It's also a vehicle for the company to be more inclusive and encourage more female owners into leadership positions.

Hopefully, this shift in the market will translate into a larger share of women in the automotive workforce and a growing interest to recruit and advance this group of professionals in the industry. According to a study commissioned by Deloitte and Automotive News, women comprise less than a third -- about 24 percent -- of the automotive workforce. Yet they make up about 47 percent of the labor force and earn more than half of the associates, bachelors and masters degrees in the U.S.

We read the occasional encouraging news, like when Mary Barra was appointed CEO of General Motors in 2014. Still, the fact remains that we have a long way to go. As more diversity and inclusion initiatives are implemented across companies and recruitment becomes a business priority, we will start to see a true transformation in this arena. The good news for now is that change, at least from a consumer standpoint, is underway.