Electric Cars Have a Women Problem
From Tesla to Ford, electric carmakers are all making the same mistake — only marketing to men.
U.S. and European automakers, confronting a shrinking market, are banking on a technological transformation to shore themselves up and win greater favor from Wall Street. But they seem to have forgotten something — women.
In the second of a two-year decline, sales at GM and Fiat Chrysler were down 1% in the first nine months of 2019 and Ford’s by triple that number. Volkswagen’s were flat, and Honda cut its profit and sales outlook to a four-year low. Even in China, the largest single market in the world, sales were down 4.2% last year.
Against this malaise, the major auto companies, in addition to a few deep-pocketed startups, are rushing out dozens of electric vehicles, seeking a prominent share of a new market for next-generation transportation. All are betting that, in the next decade, electrics will begin to capture significant chunks of the market from conventional vehicles and that the most successful companies could even be rewarded with much higher, Silicon-Valley-level stock valuations on Wall Street.
But the industry has mostly overlooked a key lesson of the last decade and before: Women are their lifeblood.
Since the financial crash, motorists have all but abandoned traditional sedans and embraced SUVs, which are now about half of the entire new vehicle market. Women have led this charge, buying 55% of crossovers, the biggest single segment of the SUV market, and about half of SUVs as a whole, says Thomas Libby, an analyst with IHS Markit, a business research firm.
Women are even more important — they appear to be the primary influence for some 85% of all new U.S. vehicle purchases, said Mark Schirmer, director of public relations at Cox Automotive, an industry research firm.
But, so far at least, women have bought relatively few electrics. According to Libby, they account for only about 30% of electric vehicle purchases. The weak appeal to women may be a considerable factor in tepid sales for most electrics, which account for just 1.4% of U.S. vehicle sales.