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GM woos female drivers

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By Ann Job / Special to The Detroit News

IRVINE, Calif. -- For three days in late August, it was Girl's Day Out in Southern California, with massages, makeovers, golf lessons, cooking instructions -- even test drives.

Far from a showroom, General Motors Corp. invited women only -- and their girlfriends, daughters and moms -- to get behind the wheels of Hummers, Saabs and Saturns at a special marketing event.

It was the latest attempt by the automaker to get a key group of consumers behind the wheel of its vehicles and, over time, jump-start sales.

With GM's U.S. market share continuing to drop, and well below 20 percent in parts of southern California, the automaker is staging more and more events such as Drive Your Style that allow consumers to sample its lineup without any sales pressure.

The automaker provided makeup experts who performed makeovers, golf pros who offered tips to improve golf swings, and celebrity chefs who shared recipes and cooking tips. There also were free massages, tasty hors d'oeuvres, seminars about getting organized and a fashion show.

"We know women influence up to 85 percent of all (auto) purchases," said Cynthia Price, manager of GM's women's marketing initiative. "We decided to create an event that's a more relevant experience for women."

GM isn't alone.

At least two other automakers -- Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. and Japan's Nissan Motor Co. -- are making special efforts to reach women car buyers this year.

Joining Redbook magazine on its Living Room tour in Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, Hyundai gives women at shopping malls information about how to research and negotiate their car purchases.

"We're going to be available to take the stress out of car-buying," said Donna Kane, a consultant who's overseeing the Hyundai effort. "You know what? There's a change taking place in (car) consumers, and 'he' is now becoming a 'she.' "

Hyundai's mall program is based on the company's Power of the Purse seminars from a decade ago, which were led by Kane and offered women tips on how to be savvy car shoppers.

Nissan's upscale brand, Infiniti, has been inviting women in Miami, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area to the traveling Infiniti Summer Engagement Tour.

They get to drive Infiniti vehicles, ask questions of "product specialists," not salespeople, and seek the advice and services of on-site golf pros, chefs and spa staffers, said Jo Ann Lawler, Infiniti's manager of lifestyle marketing.

In November, Infiniti for the first time will be the automotive sponsor of Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women in Business conference, being held in Pasadena.

Female business leaders will have the option of being shuttled to the event in Infiniti models and there will be test drives available.

"Selling to women is different than selling to men," Lawler said, noting that Infiniti sales today "skew 67 percent male."

At Saab, women account for 44 percent of sales. Women are buying 40 percent of Hummer H2 models and half of Hummer H3 models, according to Hummer spokeswoman Dayna Hart.

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GM has always done things to attract women. Heck, they're the only ones that basically designed a whole division around such (Saturn).

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