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Bankrate's 2007 New Car Guide
For women mostly
Women have become major players in the auto world and they're getting more respect.
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For women mostly
Carmakers rev up appeals to women buyers

Ladies, start your engines.

Manufacturers are revving up efforts to appeal to the huge female market through the design of vehicles and advertisements showing the ease and enjoyment connected with particular cars.

"We want to keep the woman in mind when designing the vehicles," says Crystal Windham, one of General Motors' lead car designers.

Chevrolet Malibu
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For example, the 2008 Chevy Malibu can come in bold exteriors such as laser blue metallic and interior fabric colors such as cashmere, a light brown.

Moroccan brown, a seat color choice in the Saturn Aura, is an aggressive color that has been more popular than the company predicted, she says.

BMW, for example, offers leather seats that reflect the sun 20 degrees cooler, which are specifically designed for women and children, said Courtney Caldwell, editor in chief and publisher of Road & Travel Magazine.

Windham explains GM also paid attention to comfort and storage features that would appeal to women "to complement their complex lives." The 2008 Malibu also has a new center console with an adjustable armrest that opens up to a bin large enough to hold a purse. A concealed storage bin on the car's instrument panel can hold items such as CDs, sunglasses, receipts and wallets.

"More than ever before, women are influencing the decisions of the vehicle sales. With that in mind, women are more educated, and we have this huge influence," says Windham, who focuses on midsize car interiors. "So when you appeal to women, and you design with them in mind, I think you're also going to appeal to men in a certain aspect."

Women influence the automobile-buying decision of a household 85 percent of the time, and buy more than half of the cars themselves, according to data from Diversity Best Practices, an organization based in Washington, D.C.

Battle of the sexes
Manufacturers have become much better at addressing women's needs, says Caldwell. "They didn't even know they had a women's market 20 years ago. Now, of course, all they do is market to women in a variety of ways."

But with that in mind, they try to keep their vehicles from becoming known as a "chick car," because men are sensitive about those labels. For example, features such as adjustable pedals would appeal to shorter people, no matter the gender. Automakers might use a female in a commercial, but would not specifically say, "These are for women," Caldwell says.

Car makers in the past several years appear to be recognizing the needs of women, by lowering the height of sport utility vehicles and adding automatic features, says Pam Scholder Ellen, an associate professor of marketing at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

"So now you have SUVs that are big station wagons, but nobody wants to be uncool enough to drive a station wagon, so they drive their SUV," she says. "Women were tired of having to worry about how much they were exposing themselves when they tried to get into their car in a skirt. It's not as physically demanding now to manage their large automobiles."

-- Posted: Aug. 2, 2007
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