What women want from a luxury car
Right now, as we put the key in the ignition, let’s acknowledge that there’s often a difference between the luxury cars that some women drive – purchased by a husband, partner or very, very dear friend – and the luxury cars that some women choose to buy for themselves.
Either way, what is it that makes women indulge in high-end, super-luxurious cars? For many, an exquisitely crafted set of wheels is every bit as desirable as a work of art or a wardrobe of haute couture fashion. Many are equally in tune with engine capacities and torque outputs.
A popular misconception is that women exclusively choose hatchbacks or compact SUVs, but according to the purveyors of luxury marques, an increasing number are buying upper-luxury sedans, larger SUVs and high-performance ‘supercars’ from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.
Ferrari acknowledged the female buying trend back in 2008 when it introduced the comfortable, four-seat convertible California – since superseded by the Portofino – but several female buyers have accelerated straight past even those to the more (dare we say it?) ‘blokey’ high-performance models.
According to Herbert Appleroth, CEO of Ferrari Australasia, Australia leads the western world per capita in its number of female Ferrari owners. He says the brand’s female customers – in common with its other clients – are people who enjoy the best of the best.
“They have an appreciation for fine art and design, the finest materials, and impeccable craftsmanship,” Appleroth says. “Of course, once they are behind the wheel, it is all about the passion and emotion of driving a Ferrari.”
In terms of the models they’re choosing, Appleroth says it’s quite an even split between the more aggressive, fun-focused V8 models and the top-line, grand touring V12s.
Ferrari hosts a worldwide calendar of events for owners and prospective clients. In recent years, these have included female-only track days. Guests are able to drive their Ferraris on various racing circuits under the guidance of Ferrari-qualified instructors.
Not everyone wants to enjoy life at full-tilt, Appleroth adds. “Our more lifestyle- focused ‘Italian Tour’ events include a week’s worth of luxury accommodation in some of the best hotels in Italy, the best fine dining and Michelin-star restaurants, luxury shopping in Milan ... The Ferrari lifestyle is driven by experiencing true passion and excellence, it’s never about just owning a car.”
This is also reflected in the degree of personalisation that owners invest in their cars.
“With our ‘Tailor Made’ program, clients can create their own paint colour, or replicate their favourite cashmere on the interior. The possibilities are endless.”
According to Porsche, female customers buy its cars for two reasons: they’re making a statement of individuality and personal success, and/or they appreciate a Porsche as an example of design and engineering.
“At the higher end of the band, there are the women who love the driving and the performance of the car – and often, you will find them taking their car to the limit on a race track,” says Stephanie Weiser from Porsche Cars Australia.
“But a large proportion of female customers are owners of our sports SUVs, the Cayenne and Macan.”
Porsche launched the Cayenne in 2003 after research in the USA showed that the company’s sports cars were often the second car in a garage – alongside a luxury SUV. “We were missing out,” says Weiser. “A large number of our male clients have a 911, and now a Cayenne or Macan for the woman of the house. We estimate around 50 per cent of Porsche SUVs are driven by women.”
That’s not to say they’re overlooking the focused sports models: of the iconic 911, about eight per cent are bought by women, and an apparently higher number for the 718 Cayman and Boxster.
Porsche conducts exclusive Ladies Drive days for women who know about their cars. “At lunchtime, it’s not just chit-chat and networking, it’s comparing model variants and driving experiences among peers, minus the male egos at the table,” Weiser says.
Dedicated Porsche owner Marie Miyashiro owns a Cayman GT4 for the track and a Boxster S for everyday use.
“I first saw a Boxster driving on the road and I was drawn to it,’’ she says. “Once I bought one, my husband suggested I enrol in the Porsche Sport Driving School. Now I take my Cayman GT4 on track monthly.”
For all its masculine associations with motor racing and James Bond, the appeal of the Aston Martin brand is not gender-specific, according to Patrik Nilsson, president of Aston Martin Asia Pacific.
“We regularly conduct research and seek feedback from our customers, and they tell us that they like the beauty and craftsmanship of our products, the understated personality and the exclusivity,” he says.
“Female owners cover a broad spectrum of models including the V8 Vantage S, Vantage GT8, Rapide S and Vanquish. Our current female clientele enjoy their cars in a mix of CBD driving, touring weekends away and on race tracks.”
Aston Martin owners tend to enjoy many of the brand’s experiences as couples.
“Earlier this year we ran the New Zealand On Ice program for the second year as part of our Art of Living program. Of the 25 drivers, five were women and we also had a female driving instructor as part of our team.
“Having said this, our dealers in Australia do hold events with female-focused luxury brand partners.”
Nilsson says they find that female advocacy is particularly important for the brand; that is, females will advocate a partner’s purchase decision. “We are developing our new luxury crossover, the DBX SUV, with a female-proxy customer. It will appeal equally Aston Martin V8 Vantage Sto both males and females, but the female proxy ensures that features like the packaging, seating position and visibility will meet all needs.”
But a fair number of women are taking the plunge for themselves. “In Australia, we are already selling about twice as many cars to females compared to our global average,” Nilsson says. “And although it’s not an everyday occurrence, we did recently have a female customer in Sydney who bought her husband a DB11 for his birthday.”
In recent years, a styling package and big wheels on an entry-model car was all that you needed to look sporty. But buying habits have changed, especially for women.
The Mercedes-AMG performance sub-brand accounts for a staggering 20 per cent of Mercedes-Benz’s total passenger car sales worldwide. The AMG machines have enhancements not only to styling, but to engines, suspensions and brakes.
“Women are now more interested than ever before in bragging rights such as zero-to-100km/h acceleration times and top speeds,” says Jerry Stamoulis, of Mercedes-Benz Australia. “Though a customer may never hit the top speed limiter of 317km/h in an AMG GTS – certainly not on Australian public roads – there’s something special in being able to say that you can.”
Stamoulis says that in the past three years, female customers of AMG have increased by five per cent. The vehicles they buy range from the $75,000 AMG A 45, which can sprint to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds, through to the $500,000 AMG S 65 Coupé, which has a twin-turbo V12 engine producing 1000Nm torque, making it one of the most powerful engines on the market.
Mercedes-Benz Australia offers a large variety of brand experience events, including a Ladies Day at the National Gallery of Victoria. “But at our AMG Driving Events, we’re seeing more women attending, wanting to drive our most powerful cars around a race track,” Stamoulis says.
As far as Audi is concerned, the big buzz of the moment is its technology-laden, large Q7 SUV and the just-launched SQ7 performance variant. (Although it pays not to overlook the equally new and achingly stylish A5 Cabriolet sports model).
Taking care of customers at the wheel with the latest technology is only a part of the Audi experience. Then there’s, well, Audi Experience.
“We have the Audi Experience loyalty program as part of our ‘myAudi’ customer interface,” says Anna Burgdorf, of Audi Australia. “We invite our high-value customers to events and activities as part of our ownership experience. This might be a lunch with Collette Dinnigan at her new home in the Southern Highlands; a lunch, dinner or foraging course or masterclass with our chefs, Matt Moran, Andrew McConnell, Kylie Kwong, Shannon Bennett or Guillaume Brahimi; or a dinner on stage at Melbourne Theatre Company with Richard Roxburgh, for example. Our owners really love these lifestyle opportunities.”
Burgdorf says that women play a large role in the car purchasing decision in a household. Around 90 per cent of such decisions are influenced by women, and just under 50 per cent of Audi purchases are directly to women.
“Women also do care about the engine they are choosing – they may not want to know the minutiae, but they do want to love their car and feel good when they’re driving it.
“Generally, women will research their car choice well, will know what they want to buy and why. And we are seeing more female salespeople entering the industry – and more salesmen realising that it’s no longer okay to start speaking to the male half of a couple that walks into the showroom.”
Technology is making life easier for all drivers. “Our traffic jam assist technology sees the car driving itself for short periods of time in slow traffic, meaning you can relax a little and let the car do the work,” says Burgdorf. “It’s an Audi goal to actually ‘give time back’ to people, with innovative technology that works so you can be efficient while driving, and stay safe.”
One of the major attractions of the grande dame of motor cars is that its models can be ordered effectively bespoke, which in turn allows so many female buyers to add their individual touches.
“One of our owners specified the colour of a nail polish to be used for the exterior of her car and another specified an accessory cushion for her dog,” says Paul Harris, regional director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Asia Pacific.
“We had another female customer send a pot of her best hand cream to our bespoke designer to create the colour for the interior of her car. Rolls-Royce owners can specify from 44,000 colours, with some owners reserving a colour for their own personal use only.”
Rolls-Royce is seeing increasing numbers of women buying its Dawn (convertible), Wraith (coupé) and Ghost (sedan), as these are more driver-oriented and less formal than the flagship, just-launched new Phantom. The Black Badge styling suite can endow any of these models with a more hard-core sporting edge. Indeed, the first owner of a Black Badge-specified model in New Zealand is a woman.
“We are seeing more and more women becoming Rolls-Royce owners – in Asia-Pacific, already around 15 per cent of Wraith owners are female,” says Harris. “Our female owners are fascinated by the materials, craftsmanship and almost limitless personalisation possibilities. There’s a heavier emphasis these days with fashion and materials.”
BMW finds that its customers, including women, choose to purchase its cars for many reasons – design, performance, functionality, comfort and safety high among them. Women play a significant role in influencing around 80 per cent of all BMW sales.
“BMW speaks directly to women with a key focus on empowerment,” says Stuart Jaffray, marketing manager of BMW Group Australia. “Empowered women are intellectual, progressive, rational, highly digital and aware of opportunities to reward themselves.”
Aside from the pure appeal of the products, BMW recognises the value in engaging women customers through events and experiences, including technology seminars.
BMW Australia’s targeted ambassadorships include recent appointment Julie Stevanja, entrepreneur and founder of the innovative online retailer Stylerunner. The dynamic Monika Tu, founder and director of Black Diamondz Property Concierge, also represents the BMW brand in Australia.
Jaffray says that women have a major say in all significant family purchases, of which a luxury car is one. More importantly, though, he adds that “the number of single, independent, successful females continues to grow and they also purchase luxury goods for themselves”.
According to sales data, the most popular upscale BMW vehicles purchased by women are currently the BMW 7 Series (starting from $224,900), BMW X5, BMW X6 and the sporty, two-seat BMW Z4.