Women have become increasingly influential when it comes to the automotive world, in everything from car design to advertising campaigns to what happens when you show up at the dealership. So what do women really want when buying a new car? And how are automakers responding to this turning tide?

According to Marketing to Women author Marti Barletta, women seek more advice from an auto authority (57%) before buying a new car; they spend more time in the purchasing process than men (17 weeks versus 15) and women shop at an average of three dealerships for best price and treatment.

In Judith E. Nichols' book, Understanding the Increasing Affluence of Women, she says in the majority of U.S. households women bring in half or more of the income and women control about 80 percent of household spending, including new car purchases.

What Women Want

"Women want the same things as men, but they want more," said Ford's Sheryl Connelly, the company's chief marketing office manager for global trends and futuring. "For example, they want performance, package and design, but they also want safety and more features. We are taking that into consideration in all of our new products."

Marketing to women, is definitely different, Connelly said. "Men respond to things and women respond to people," she noted. "It isn't that men won't respond to people, but women just respond differently. So, we look at this in the types and ways we advertise."

Michael Albano of GM's global design group says women's influence in the automotive market has hit an all-time high, noting 85 percent of all vehicle sales decisions are influenced by women with women buying 45 percent of all vehicles. (This information is based on car registration numbers only and does not reflect households where vehicles are shared.)

A Female Touch

Albano says when it comes to car interiors; GM pays particular attention to details in trim, fabric, colors and compartments, shapes and positioning of controls. "And then, of course, storage is a big deal to women buyers whether it's room for groceries, handbags, kids' toys, foldable seats or built-in car booster seats," he added.

As for exteriors, "women want great designs, but they also don't want to compromise on safety and efficiency," Albano noted. "So we pay particular attention to proportions and stance, including the wheel-to-body relationship."

In fact, many of GM's top design engineers are women: several female engineers (along with the guys too, of course), worked together to design the new Cadillac CTS, which was named Motor Trend's 2008 Car of the Year.

Liz Pilibosian, chief engineer for the 2008 Cadillac CTS, said she believes "when you make a car for a woman, you are going to satisfy everybody."

Pilibosian said female engineers at GM don't just work on interiors. "We have women working on the power train, electric systems, control systems and vibration. All of our women are very hands-on types who aren't afraid of touching anything or taking it apart or putting it back together. They are passionate about cars."

Attention to Detail

The details are what propelled the CTS into the spotlight. Pilibosian says Cadillac's engineers were meticulous in designing each and every system with female needs in mind. "We made sure things like the steering column were not too low and not too high," she said. The same approach was applied to the seating, which was designed for petite women as well as very tall men.

She mentions industry buzz words like "outside hand placement," which translates to: door handle. Not only did the engineers make sure the handle won't knock your body when you open the door, but they were also cognizant that women drivers may have long fingernails and need a door handle that's easier to grab.

The exterior styling on the CTS was also a consideration for both sexes. Pilibosian said the design team wanted "fast, swoopy, diagonal lines" for a sporty and luxurious look. She said both women and men are enticed by the car's "smoothness from one end to the other with no rough edges and a tight, flush design."

The "gender phenomenon," said Pilibosian, is not that the CTS appeals more to women or men, but that the vehicle's "aggressive and elegant" lines are pleasing equally to guys and gals.

Continuing Reading: Driving Impressions of Gender-friendly Cars

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