The Truth About Caroline: She Was (Not) An American (Car) Girl

Caroline Ellis
by Caroline Ellis

The saying, “Men are from Mars and women are Venus”, embodies more truth than one may realize. It is no secret that men and women have had differences in matters of opinion ever since the beginning of time. We are all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve. Here we are, X versus Y, still at odds on well… EVERYTHING!

It’s no different today when we take a look at the automotive industry. When you look at men and women on the road today, you will notice a BIG difference in automotive choices. Speaking from a woman’s perspective I can honestly say, I’m not sure if I will ever understand the thought process of a man’s choice of car. However, I believe it’s fair to say that men probably have no clue what we’re thinking when we decide on a vehicle as well.

Upon hearing that I was writing for a car blog, a female friend of mine remarked that you don’t see many women of any age driving American made cars nowadays.

She’s right. It’s the kind of thing you don’t notice until someone points it out. But why is that so? Well, you could argue that a woman’s thought process is very basic: We want something that is catchy, cute, and affordable. We want a car to be dependable and require very little maintenance. Time management is important; all we really want is to get from point A to point B. But it helps matters if we look chic while doing so. When we drive a vehicle we want it to be effortless. We just want it to work-we don’t have time for anything above and beyond the manufacturer’s scheduled maintenance. And American cars, whether deserved or not, don’t have nearly the reputation for reliability that Japanese makes do.

Let’s face it, in a woman’s world, we become distracted easily and day to day life can catch up to us and take over at any moment. We have so much on our minds that we don’t want to think of how to drive a vehicle, we just want to drive. The feeling a young woman can obtain in her car can be sublime. Driving in silence, abandoning all thoughts, giving in and becoming one with the road is essentially bliss to us. To casually drive and lose ourselves in the nothingness of the terrain for just 10 minutes is priceless freedom because this could be the only 10 minutes of peace we get all day. Maybe it’s the time between the moment we leave the hustle and bustle of the office and the time we pick up our kids from daycare and begin the nightly parenting routine. A car that is carefree and uncomplicated is what we seek.

When I envision myself in the perfect vehicle of my choice I picture a Mini Cooper, or an Acura RSX, or maybe a VW Eos. Most surprisingly, I picture the Hyundai Elantra; it’s the most efficient all the way around. Fundamentally it seems to stand out over the rest; it is remarkably affordable, low cost maintenance, great gas mileage, stylish, and easy to drive. It’s truly remarkable how the perception of the Elantra, specifically, and Hyundai, in general, has evolved in the last ten years with women. We’ve gone from the “wouldn’t be caught dead in this shitbox” 2001 model to the 2014 that is arguably the most highly regarded amongst Gen Y women in the class.

When I started to really analyze the stereotypically “American” cars, I also noticed their masculinity and bulkiness; man cars to do man things, definitely geared for the typical male buyer. If you consider the quintessential Amercian automobiles available today, what comes to mind first? Maybe it’s the Chevrolet Corvette, or maybe the Dodge Charger, and of course, we cannot forget the Ford F-150 (which was named by as the most American vehicle this year). While all the vehicles I mentioned above are exceptional, I do not picture a woman driving any one of them. These are rugged, able-bodied vehicles. Add a rugged man to go with that rugged truck…YES PLEASE! But the thought of me behind the wheel of any of these is, frankly, comical, at best and disastrous, at worst. When I think American cars, I don’t think of cars in the A and B segments. And that’s a problem.

Here’s the issue: GM, Ford, and Chrysler all have good, solid efforts in the $20K and under segment. The Fiesta, Focus, Spark, Sonic, and Dart are largely solid efforts. But I hate their brands, and so do all of my friends. Millennial women LOVE brands. We think Apple is ah-may-zing. When it comes to cars, we rank BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi among our favorite luxury brands, period, right up there with Prada and Marc Jacobs. We trust Honda and Toyota like we trust our favorite brands of tampons. Chevy? Ford? Dodge? You don’t register.

It’s going to take quite a long time and quite a bit of brand equity building for the Big Three to get Gen Y women on their side. Remember the original Fiesta Movement? It was the ill-fated and poorly executed attempt to get women like me to find the Fiesta desirable by putting it in the hands of people like Jen Friel. Seriously. It helped them sell approximately zero Fiestas. Since it was such an epic failure the first time, Ford is, of course, trying again and this go round they’ve given Fiestas to people like Trevor Bayne. The last thing Ford needs is for me to associate the Fiesta with NASCAR fans. I see enough hillbillies driving around with #88 flags on their trucks. Give me somebody like Zooey Deschanel, somebody that I can identify with.

In the long run, the women of Gen Y hold the future of automakers in our well-manicured hands. We will make the buying decisions on the family sedans in the next ten years. We’ll be deciding which minivan to buy (shudder) when the soccer team needs a ride. And we’ll be deciding which brands to trust our sixteen-year old daughter’s life to when she gets behind the wheel of her first car.

So make us like you, Big Three. Give us a reason to switch. Make us feel like our girlfriends won’t think we’re stupid for picking you. Because, right now, you’re losing us. It’s a game you just can’t afford to lose.

Caroline Ellis
Caroline Ellis

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  • Beanbear Beanbear on Dec 04, 2013

    One general marketing challenge (not unique to cars) is that women will often still respond to marketing that's "geared" to men, but not vice versa. The lack of GenY women interest in the Big 3 probably isn't overly specific to that demo; it's more symptomatic of broader problems. If you have strong product, and have a authentic/appropriate general marketing message around it, most of your likely-buyer demo's will follow. E.g. - I don't know how "successful" it was, but last year's Chrysler T&C "Test of Ownership" ad campaign ( stuck with us when we were shopping. Though I *personally* loved these Odyssey ad's (, on a product-level, they felt pretty forced. Sidenote: Chicago-area folks will likely remember all the early 2000's-era jokes about "Lincoln Park Trixies"... and that they all drove Jetta's.

  • Luke42 Luke42 on Dec 05, 2013

    Wow, this article makes me glad my 20s are behind me. I used to care about the "boy car" and "girl car" thing, back when I was single and didn't have the cash to trade used cars around. Now, as a happily married grownup with a gkkd sex life, and a dad, I really don't care about whether a car's styling is macho or feminine. My favorite DD is our Toyota Sienna, because it's practical, efficient, and has a power-to-weight ratio that will win a race a lot of classic muscle cars on the track, and a really stiff stabilizer bar - but I rarely use this power because it makes the kid-stuff in the back slide around. Wow, I've come a long way. And I, when I'm reminded of what my 20s were really like, well, good riddance! Back up the minivan, dear, so I can load up kid stuff!

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    • Vulpine Vulpine on Dec 05, 2013

      @Willyam And now you've explained why I DON'T want full size, but I do want a pickup; I'll almost never carry 5 people (any car just about can do that) but occasionally I need to carry out-sized stuff that simply won't fit in the back of an SUV. A mid-sized or compact pickup with an open bed can carry the wallboard, the plywood, 20-some 8'long event tables, a refrigerator, etc.; you don't need a full-sized truck for that purpose. And since I don't carry more than my wife and my dog 99% of the time, I simply don't need a full-time back seat. I do, however, need the ability to carry some purchases in the cab which simply cannot fit behind the seat of a standard-cab pickup. In all, I know I'm not alone in this, even if I am in a 'minority'. What's available? Japanese. What? You say an American full-sized truck can do all of that? Hey! didn't you read where I said I don't NEED full sized? Nor do I WANT full sized. They're simply too big for where I live and drive on average. And since the Colorado doesn't hit the showrooms until probably July or August (or maybe even later) you can't say it's available. The interesting thing is that my wife is one of those all-American types too; she doesn't WANT a foreign brand and she loves pickup trucks. She also doesn't WANT a full-sized truck, though admittedly we have an F-150--a 24-year-old, smaller version that's still 18 feet long and only barely fits in our available parking. (I have neighbors whose trucks are so big they lap over both the sidewalk and the curb to the point that people have to swing around both front and back of the vehicle as they pass.) My point is that not all women want to drive family sedans and not all men want to buy luxo-monsters. You really can't set a stereotype on any person because they will always find some way to surprise you. It is a stereotype that all women are 'fashionistas'; a stereotype exaggerated by many of the more recent (and to me non-entertaining) reality shows. I do agree that many people simply don't have the desire to critique and analyze their purchases, choosing instead to rely on advertising and hearsay to buy clothing, appliances and yes, even cars. I've driven everything from some of the smallest street-legal cars to the largest that can never legally run on highways (unless an absolute emergency). I've driven 2 wheels to 18 wheels, water and wings. I know what I like, not because of what someone has told me I should like, but because I've driven, flown, etc. examples of nearly every type and have made my own decisions over what I buy. Yes, I have brands that I prefer and brands I don't, but those views have come from personal experience--both good and bad. And yes, when I have the need, I will even purchase a brand I absolutely hate--if it meets that need.

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.