, Salem, MA


January 18, 2014

Auto shows do more for women, lean toward men


But as females gain more income and buying power — not to mention corner offices — automakers may have to rethink using the short skirt to grab attention.

Some automakers have already done away with models altogether. At Honda’s stand in Detroit, the focus was on the brand’s new Fit subcompact and a futuristic fuel-cell car called the FCEV. The company says it tries to appeal to the broadest range of customers at its show stands.

Across the way, Ford set up a sample assembly line in its exhibit, which is staffed by both men and women. Ford’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields said women and younger buyers, in particular, come to auto shows to get educated.

Fields said Ford no longer uses scantily-clad female models like it did 15 years ago. The company’s data shows that women buy 41 to 42 percent of new cars each year, up from 20 percent in 1980. Among buyers 30 and younger, women account for 56 percent of new car purchases.

“That’s how we make sure auto shows stay relevant,” Fields said.

But there are still plenty of theatrics at the Detroit show, which is expecting more than 800,000 visitors this week. Over at Dodge, models in tight white dresses and shiny go-go boots strike poses in front of an orange Challenger muscle car.

Bo Puffer, who hires the models that the Chrysler Group uses at its 71 U.S. auto shows, is unapologetic.

“A good-looking person next to a good-looking car is a formula that’s going to work for us no matter what brand it is,” Puffer said.

Puffer matches models to each brand. For example, Fiat places younger presenters near its cars because it’s trying to attract younger buyers. The Ram pickup has male presenters. Eighty percent of Puffer’s hires are female, he says, but that’s partly because more women try out for the jobs. Those who are hired spend a week learning about the brand so they can answer visitors’ questions.

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