In just under 70 per cent of all car sales, women either take the decision or have at least an equal say. When couples decide how to finance the car, in three-quarters of cases, the woman is the main or equal decision-maker, and in over half the sales, women have an equal chance of choosing the type of car.
The 400 dealers questioned for the survey said that both men and women saw design, style, price and value for money as important. But while women placed greater emphasis on safety and green issues, men showed much more interest in the engine size.
Car manufacturers in Britain have changed their advertising to target women and their spending power. Vauxhall dropped all reference to top speeds when it advertised the Astra, preferring to stress its practicality.
Vauxhall confirmed Lombard's findings that women are more concerned with safety and environmental issues than power: 'Women were way ahead in pushing for catalytic converters, insisting on airbags and rear seatbelts,' a spokesman said. 'Without sounding patronis ing, women want reliable cars that are easy to park, with low running costs.'
Every member of a Vauxhall dealership has to undergo training once a year at their Luton headquarters. An essential part of this includes dealing with women.
'They are taught not to ignore women if they come in with their partner,' a spokesman said. 'They are told not to talk down to women and deal with them properly.'
At Highbury Ford garage, north London, two female sales executives are employed as well as two men. Victoria Avella, one of them, said: 'Women like dealing with women. They often find male sales executives too aggressive. Women open up a lot more to other women, and trust them.'
She said that she had had problems with men who refused to be served by a woman: 'It's mainly the older generation. If they get really stroppy and will only talk to a man then I have to hand them over to a man.'
Over the five years she has worked in the motor trade, Ms Avella feels attitudes have definitely changed: 'You do find with couples it's generally women who have the last say now.'
But while women are making inroads in buying cars, the AA has grim news for them the moment the cheque is signed.
Its survey, Women and Cars, revealed that women almost always take second place to their partners when using a shared car - 22 per cent of men get outright preference for the use of the car when both partners need it, compared with only 7 per cent of women.
Sue Castle, the author of the survey, urged women to keep on driving: 'Women, on average, live longer than men and if their partner becomes ill or dies, the car will maintain a key role in maintaining their quality of life,' she said.
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