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Heels & Wheels Stages First Women's Auto Event

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author photo by Autotrader June 2011

The invitation for the first annual Heels & Wheels, a gathering of female automotive journalists, bloggers, executives and automotive engineers, held in Palm Springs, California, read like this:

Did you know that...
- Women make 62 percent of new-car purchases?
- Women make almost 80 percent of the purchase decision?
- American women have a purchasing power of over $5 trillion?
- Women make 65 to 80 percent of service and maintenance decisions?

We did know that and decided to celebrate and honor women as a major force in the automotive purchase decision!

The group got together to do some real world, real women testing. The format included road tests and challenges, like the ease of getting in and out of cars, cabin functionality and loading everything from groceries, suitcases, child seats and toy dogs to the ubiquitous golf clubs in the cargo area of vehicles.

The gathering was put together by event planner Christine Overstreet. The new cars available for test loops included the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Mazda5, Kia Optima Hybrid, GMC Acadia, Volvo C70, Dodge Journey & Chrysler Town & Country, Chevrolet Cruze Eco, Honda Civic Hybrid and Hyundai Tucson.

Instead of the typical swag we usually score at auto events, we were asked to give back and bring a business suit to donate to the charity Dress for Success.

As for the conversation… Well, honestly, when you get a group of car guys together it typically hums around torque, horsepower and all that jazz. Sure, girls can talk all that too, but our discussions ranged from investment tips and hair straightening products to test driving in Death Valley, and which type of tarantulas were deadly.

"It's empowering to see so many women in the automotive business together!" exclaimed Dorothy Redmond, a freelance writer from Washington, DC.

Christina Selter, pet safety expert, offered, "This is an awesome gathering. Honestly, women influence 80% of the business decisions on autos… It's such a huge market!"

Susan A. Eckel, Chief Engineer for Global Midsize Crossovers for GM, remarked, "It's the same reason our engineers ask us if we can go on development trips. They look for women to sit and evaluate things like window controls."

Kathy Graham, an executive at Chrysler, remarked how satisfying it was to be able to, "Pick everyone's brains. We don't usually get the chance to do this. There's not a lot of game playing here."

Veteran auto writer, Nina Russin of carspondent.com, noted, "Although the number of women professionals in the auto industry has increased dramatically, female journalists are still in the minority. Heels & Wheels is an opportunity for us to focus on issues of particular interest to women, as journalists, car buyers and drivers. This is also a chance for the manufacturers to get a pulse on issues of particular concern to women, especially as it regards the dealership experience."

"I have not attended a press event in the auto industry that was so female centric without pandering to a fad," said Rebekah King, Consumer Communications Manager, Kelley Blue Book. To that end, the Market Intelligence team at Kelley Blue Book put together some compelling figures for us to consider.

Following are a few noteworthy stats from the KBB's Demographics Survey:

• Only 46.3% of female automotive shoppers are married compared to 64% of male automotive shoppers.

• 31% of female automotive shoppers have no children. Of those who do have children, the average number of children is 2.4.

• The average age of the female automotive shopper is 43.

• On average, female automotive shoppers currently own 2 vehicles in their households.

• 78% of female automotive shoppers report using Facebook compared to only 64% of male automotive shoppers.

• 41% of female automotive shoppers earn $49,999 per year or less.

• 59% of female automotive shoppers own their home compared to 68% of male automotive shoppers who own their home.

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Heels & Wheels Stages First Women's Auto Event - Autotrader