Economic Times: Women's Drive Revs Up Motown
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PERSONAL MOBILITY With the percentage of women among car buyers doubling in five years; auto cos focus on providing features such as clutch-less transmission and rear parking cameras to make driving easier for them
Automobile manufacturers are making their products increasingly woman-friendly, as they seek to become more attractive to the fairer sex, a category that is becoming a driving force behind vehicle sales in India.
From small cars such as the Renault Kwid and Maruti Alto to luxury sedans and SUVs from the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, women are buying passenger vehicles across segments as they become financially independent and empowered to make decisions. The trend is visible more in urban markets.
In the past five years, the percentage of women among car buyers has nearly doubled, to 10-12% from about 6%, industry executives said. Carmakers have recognised this opportunity and are eager to provide the comforts their discerning female customers look for, such as clutch-less transmission, rear parking cameras, electronically foldable mirrors and navigation options, even in small cars.
“Earlier, cars used to be registered in the name of the father or the husband as homemakers had difficulties accessing bank loans,“ said Sumit Sawhney, managing director, Renault India. “With more and more women working and gaining financial independence, this trend is changing.“
While about 15% of the demand for Renault's Kwid is from women, at Maruti, the country's largest car maker, as much as 11% of sales across brands is to women, and the company expects that number to grow.
“As women expand their roles in different professions, gain financial independence and empowerment, we foresee car ownership going up,“ said RS Kalsi, executive director for marketing and sales at Maruti Suzuki.
“This confidence also comes from the fact that several enablers are in place -banks are offering woman-special loans, manufacturers like us are offering special technologies like auto gear shift, driving training (by women trainers) and even expanding into woman-special accessories.“
While the number of women buying cars has increased, the average age of the female buyer has reduced. According to data available with Maruti, as much as 41% of its female customers are aged less than 35 years, compared with 35% five years ago.
The number of women taking car loans has increased to 76% from 69% over the same period. Maruti sees the launch of auto gear shift technology in its cars as one of the reasons for its success with women. As much as 41% of its sales of the Alto, WagonR, Celerio and DZire -all these models offer automatic or automated manual transmission options -comes from female buyers. Also, Kalsi said, women are increasingly buying larger vehicles -for instance 11.5% of Ertiga utility vehicle sales is to women. “Perhaps, they like to move in groups with families or children,“ he said.
At Hyundai India, 15-17% of sales is to women though an estimated 25-30% of the vehicles sold by it is used by women, said Rakesh Srivastava, senior vice-president for sales and marketing.
“Most of our woman buyers are from metros. They come from nuclear families where both partners are working and, therefore, prefer personal mobility options over less comfortable public transport,“ he said.
The trend is similar in the luxury market as well, with MercedesBenz India selling 12% of its vehicles to women. Woman customers, the company said, are showing increasing preference for its SUV portfolio, which comprises the GLA, GLE and GL.
“We see women from all age groups purchasing our vehicles and a majority of them are based in the metros,“ said Roland Folger, managing director, Mercedes-Benz India. Its female customers mostly prefer their cars in red, white and silver colours, he said.
While women today account for 10-12% of sales in the 2.6 million passenger vehicle market in India, the usage of cars among women is much higher, say industry insiders, given that vehicles still tend to be registered in the name of male family members.
Maruti Suzuki, for instance, has 357 driving schools in the country and 48% of learners are women, an indication that the number of women drivers is much higher than the number of vehicles registered in their names.
However, these are still early days, some analysts say.
“If you look at four-wheelers, it (woman customer base) is a small percentage and it is very modelspecific at this point of time,“ said Mohit Arora, vice-president, JD Powers Asia Pacific. But there's hope. “We do think that some of these things will change ... But I think a lot needs to be done for vehicle safety, traffic conditions. Some of these things need to be changed before you see a massive adoption in terms of women driving cars personally in India,“ Arora said.