“Chick Car” = the Kiss of Death?

When it comes to marketing cars to women, why are most brands so, well, male?

By Fara Warner

So, let me get this straight.

Car companies spend millions of dollars every year on focus groups and research projects to figure out what women want in cars. But when they actually happen to create a vehicle that attracts more women than men — the so-called “chick car” — some brands consider it the kiss of death.

Indeed, instead of learning from such happy accidents — often these cars aren’t the result of any women-focused research but attract women naturally — car companies are so uncomfortable with the “chick car” designation that they will go to great lengths to draw men back to the brand.

Take for instance Volkswagen and its iconic Beetle. When the first redesign debuted in 1998, the curvaceous “three bubble” design wasn’t expressly about attracting women. Instead, designers J Mays and Freeman Thomas created a car that paid homage to, instead of simply copying, the original German design.

Nor was the spacious interior (a byproduct of the rounded design) with its simple dashboard and easy-to-use controls thought of as particularly “womanly.” The original Beetle designed in Germany had the same utilitarian characteristics.

Of course, the plastic flower vase could have been seen as a nod to women buyers. But even that probably had more to do with the car’s association with the 1960s “flower power” movement. In fact, I recall some women Beetle owners being unimpressed with the accessory. They complained that the plastic got too hot next to the heater vent to really support a fresh flower anyway.

Still the Beetle, with its “smiley face” front end and fashionable paint options that were refreshingly different from run-of-the mill car colors, did attract women. But it also attracted men. In its best year, 2002, the Beetle sold 80,000 units in the U.S. and was pretty evenly split between male and female buyers, according to Volkswagen of America statistics.

But even with a perfect 50-50 gender mix, Volkswagen began to perceive the “chick car” status as a negative. It tried to fend it off with the addition of a turbo engine variation in 2002, but even that macho move failed to stem the tide of women flocking to the Beetle.

By 2010, Beetle sales had dropped to between 11,000 and 12,000 units and the female-to-male split was 70-30. But instead of patting itself on the back for finally understanding women what did Volkswagen decide to do?

Man up.

Share This:

2 Responses to ““Chick Car” = the Kiss of Death?”

  1. Sharon says:

    My husband drives a Volvo C-30. When he was considering it, several people warned him it was a “chick car.” He ignored them and bought it anyway because it is just what he wanted — small, beautiful, fuel efficient, fun to drive, great sight lines out all windows, especially in back. And, it’s relatively uncommon — we see few of them on the road, and he likes the idea of driving something a little different. He loves it. But here’s the funny part — we both notice women really checking this car out! On the road, in parking lots…I drove it to the market once, and came out to the parking lot to find three women standing there by the C-30, admiring it. We had a fun discussion about it being my husband’s “chick car” before I drove off.

  2. Joe says:

    I think that certain cars are called the “Chick car”. I had a woman one day come out of a store and she noticed me admiring her car, recent redo of the T-Bird. She asked what I thought and I told her it was a great looking car (and thinking…but overpriced), then she said well it’s really a women’s car. So there you go.

    I have 3 daughters, taught them all to drive, how to change a tire, how to check the oil and tires. All 3 have different tastes in cars. Two like to drive manual shift and the third has a Minnie. But we don’t discuss things in terms of “chic cars”, never had. One daughter didn’t like to drive my co. car because…. ‘she discribed it as’ an old persons car. I looked at the car and thought, my dad would love this car (so she was correct). My next co. car was black Buick Regal, with bucket seats and had a little zip to it. She said now thats more like it. Women do have different tastes, as do men but I don’t think it matters. I like to see Danica Patrick in a swim suit but she really gets my attention in an Indy car.

    Vroom Girls is great! Keep up the good work. I love to read, drive and see nice cars.

Leave a Comment