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Supercar makers in need of a feminine side

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 20 May 2015

SUPERCAR makers don’t have a clue how to speak to women, business consultant Belinda Parmar says — and they may need to learn, and quickly.

With the number of financially independent women on the rise across much of the world, high-performance carmakers risk losing a potentially big market to more adaptable rivals.

Women tend to choose cars that are smaller, cheaper and more fuel-efficient, according to a study by TrueCar.com, an automotive pricing and information website.

While that may be true as a generalisation, there are women who want cars that are powerful, loaded with features and fun to drive just as much as men.

That appears to be especially the case in emerging markets.

Although Ferrari sells only around 8 per cent of its cars in the United States to women, the figure is about three times that in China, IHS said. Women customers in China also often opt for the more powerful and more expensive Ferrari 458 model.

“Women in China are proud of what they have achieved and let it show,” Wolfgang Duerheimer, chief executive of Bentley, a sister brand to Porsche in the Volkswagen stable told Reuters.

 Swiss-based artist Lady Cornelia Hagmann with her stunning Ferrari La Ferrari. The Austrian-born painter and sculptor is one of the few women owning this Ferrari model.

Swiss-based artist Lady Cornelia Hagmann with her stunning Ferrari La Ferrari. The Austrian-born painter and sculptor is one of the few women owning this Ferrari model.

The potential female customer base for high-performance cars is getting bigger. A record 197 women made Forbes’s list of billionaires this year, up from 172 in 2014, though still a small proportion of the 1826 total, while countries such as Britain are making progress in a drive to ensure more women are represented in company boardrooms.

“Any woman could drive those cars,” Sonja Heiniger, the Swiss owner of an Internet services firm who has owned four Lamborghinis and hits the racetrack in a Porsche, told Reuters news agency.

“If you only address men, then that’s a pity,” the 76 year-old said as she touched the accelerator in her latest Lamborghini, a US$375,000 (RM1.3m) Gallardo Super Trofeo Stradale special edition car.

While fewer than 10 per cent of Lamborghinis and Ferraris in the United States are bought by women, the figure for Porsche – whose sportscars tend to be cheaper – has climbed to almost a quarter, according to forecasters IHS Automotive.

In China, one of the world’s fastest-growing car markets, Porsche makes almost 40 per cent of its sales to women, helping it to become a key profit engine for parent Volkswagen.

Porsche has picked tennis star Maria Sharapova as a brand ambassador and expanded into sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), a category which has proved popular among women.

But the high-performance car industry has a long way to go.

It remains dominated by gender stereotypes, with scantily-clad models decorating the stands at car shows. And most brands make little attempt to address women – just look at the number of car adverts in male-orientated magazines such as GQ compared with Marie-Claire and Elle that have a more female readership.

But sometimes their attempts have sometimes backfired, criticised as “patronising” and as a result, some carmakers appear wary of trying.

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