Tara Weingarten estimates she's accompanied at least 50 women to the dealership to buy their cars. As a veteran automotive journalist for Newsweek and the founder of VroomGirls, a site devoted to women automotive enthusiasts, Weingarten grew frustrated with the traditional arrangement of pressured techniques and gendered salesmanship.
"For women, buying a car is the final frontier of big purchases. Now they'll buy a house or a condo by themselves, negotiate the price, totally fine. But they won't buy a car by themselves," she said.
The dealership is not the best environment for women to be test-driving cars and asking questions on their own, Weingarten realized, so she devised the idea of a "car party," modeled after purse parties and Tupperware parties, where women could try out the goods in the real world, surrounded by other women, with no pressure to buy.
Their first car party earlier this month featured eight 2015 Toyota models — the carmaker sponsored the event. Weingarten invited 25 women who are in the market to buy a fuel-efficient car to attend, and they took turns driving each model up into the hills of Santa Monica, California, with their friends. In between munching on a pleasant lunch of salads and paninis, they asked six female Toyota specialists questions with no judgment — and no sales pressure.
"I heard women asking questions I don't think they would have asked at the dealership around men," Weingarten said. "Women were really interested in the Prius models. Men usually chime in and say they don't have enough power, but with the women, there were so many questions about safety. One woman asked, 'If the battery dies and I'm out in the woods, what will happen?' The specialist explained hybrids to her. No condescension."
The only model the women weren't interested in that day: the minivan.
Weingarten isn't the only woman who wants to revolutionize the car-buying process for female car buyers, who spend around $80 billion a year in the auto industry but have never gotten the proper marketing they deserve.
Weingarten's approach emboldens women to march onto the lot and demand fair treatment and a fair price. At the other end of the spectrum is LeeAnn Shattuck of The Car Chick, who works as a kind of middle-woman broker, finding cars that meet women's specifications, negotiating the best deals and taking care of all the paperwork for her clients, so they don't even have to step on the lot.
Where Shattuck and Weingarten both agree that they want to have an effect is the American Economic Review statistic that women end up paying, on average, $1,000 more than men for the same car, who are more likely to haggle for a deal. Women also already make less than men, so that $1,000 adds up faster, especially when you figure in it's only one small piece of the "woman tax," the financial disadvantage of being female.
In a video on her website, Shattuck lays out some dismal statistics she's culled from decades of being a motor enthusiast and driver: 85% of women would rather have a root canal than buy a car; women influence 85% of all household purchases, but even successful executives stall out on the dealership lot when it comes to negotiations.
Dealerships move hundreds of cars off the lot in a month, but the average American only buys a car every 13 years, so this already puts the buyer at a disadvantage. Many women — and men — may find it easier to spend the extra money on a knowledgeable broker like Shattuck than to deal with the financial and emotional repercussions of buying a car. But if you still want to brave the lot, Weingarten has some advice she shared with the attendees at the VroomGirls car party.
"You're in there for one hour or you're going to leave," Weingarten said. "You ask, 'Can I sign these papers in an hour?' and they all say, 'Yeah, yeah,' but you keep reminding them. You don't act like a victim. You come up with a price. You say this is the price you want to pay."
Walk in knowing that price by searching for the "wholesale price" of whatever model you like "and don't engage when they ask you what other brands you're shopping for. I think women want to feel comfortable, so when the salesperson is doing chitchat with that, you fill in the silence, but it's to your disadvantage," Weingarten said. "It's like an ex-boyfriend asking who you're dating and if they're taller or handsomer. You don't have to engage."
Right now, Weingarten is working on her next car party with another, unexpected brand: Italian luxe sportscar Lamborghini. It's not so much a move to get women to behave like rich men in the throes of a midlife crisis as it is to make the introductions that are long overdue.
"Car companies need to understand that women don't support companies that don't support them," she said.
Tags: CARS, TRAVEL & LEISURE, U.S., US & World, WOMEN