WHEN it comes to cars, women have their game faces on, thanks to a great equalizer, the Internet. They are tuning in to Web sites like , , MagicHands and for advice, consumer reviews and a little humor.
With virtual clipboards in hand, women say, they can shop without being humiliated by insensitive salesmen. Is this model safe, fuel efficient and reliable? Check. Affordable and easy to maintain? Check. Cool to drive? Check.
Linda Michaelsen of Bradenton, Fla., recently went to MagicHands for advice on crossover sport-utility vehicles. Within 24 hours, she said, she had advice on mileage and seating capacity, the name of a recommended model and a list of “women friendly” car dealers in her area so that she could buy from “someone who doesn’t make me feel like I’m stupid,” she said.
While the sites differ, they share a vision of consumers in need — many of them. Jody DeVere, president of MagicHands (a name chosen to represent “everywoman”), says American women buy about eight million new cars and trucks a year.
The sites are part reader service, part trusted friend. Ms. DeVere recently listed her favorite children’s car books. Edmunds asked “What Should We Do About Grandma’s Driving?” while Road & Travel Magazine’s site reported on a promotional event for Infiniti with pedicures and cooking demonstrations.
At Motherproof, the founder, Kristin Varela, and six “mom reviewers” are on a quest for the “quintessential mom-mobile.”
“We’re searching for vehicles that will make our daily lives of grocery shopping and preschool pickup just a little easier,” the site declares. Recent examples included the Mini Cooper, the and the .
Whether or not they do their own buying, women wield influence over 85 percent of vehicle purchases, said Joanne Helperin, an editor at Edmunds, citing research done for General Motors and others. Women come to the Internet for advice, she said, because it is easy to get there at all hours and “women are multitaskers who are horrendously busy.”
“We focus on the things we think are most important to women,” Ms. Helperin said, like safety, reliability and comfort.
Deborah Wahl Meyer, the chief marketing officer at , says that the Internet is a “wonderful opportunity for us” but that it’s still a challenge to attract women to a culture centered on an engine. “Typically that’s a language that we’re not interested in,” she added.
She said that Chrysler’s goal was to provide information that was “more approachable.” So has a “mom hostess” with tips on how to navigate the site and learn more about the 2008 Grand Caravan. (Dodge is also making 30 Caravans available in six markets this fall to 300 mothers who are blogging about their test-drives.)
After fits and starts, the auto industry is catching on to the power of the purse, said Courtney Caldwell, the founder and editor of Road & Travel Magazine.
In the 1970s, she recalled, she was a single mother with a lot of knowledge about cars. But when it came time to buy, salesmen would offer “a discount for a date,” she said, “which I found pretty offensive.” She started Road & Travel Magazine in 1989 “to empower and educate women on how to buy a car, deal with condescending salesmen, how to ask the right questions, how to avoid rip-offs and scams, and how to negotiate.”
In 2000, Ms. Caldwell converted to an electronic format. Today her site has a staff of six and income from automobile advertising and car-of-the-year-style events. A free monthly newsletter is sent by e-mail to more than a million readers. Five percent live outside the United States, including some in Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive.
MagicHands arrived on the scene about a year ago with advice on car purchases, maintenance and related topics. The site, already profitable, generates revenue from advertising and training courses at dealerships and marketing programs to help them reach women.
Ms. DeVere says she strives for a balance between making practical suggestions and emotional connections, and between content for young women — hence her list of books for backseat riders — and “women like my mom, who’s 84 and concerned about car buying.”
A stable of 50 auto industry professionals field questions from readers, and a sister site, , invites women to write car reviews, as does Edmunds.
MagicHands has even plunged into Second Life, the virtual world, where it recently introduced Dan Dufus, the Clueless Salesman.
How clueless? In a video, he misses an opportunity to sell a convertible to a customer, Grace, by ignoring her until her husband arrives.
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