December 30, 2011
Specialized websites beckon to women who care about cars
From McClatchy News Service
DALLAS — For some reason, gear ratios don’t interest most women.
But as women continue to reshape the male-dominated auto industry, they do want to know about the space in a car’s interior, its exterior styling and its fuel economy and safety ratings, Tara Weingarten says.
“Where men see eye candy in a hot car, women wonder, ’How will my life be different if I choose that car?’ ” said Weingarten, 49, a founder of Vroomgirls.com, one of the newest of a small but expanding number of automobile websites aimed at women.
“I want to leave out the jargon and humanize cars,” said Weingarten, a native Californian and longtime enthusiast who was Newsweek’s auto reviewer for 15 years. “I want it to be Motor Trend edited by Martha Stewart.”
Her weeks-old site joins Carladynews.com on the Web, a Dallas-based site aimed at women that has been up for “six or seven years,” said publisher Madelyn Miller.
Miller, 64, figures that about a dozen women-oriented car sites compete for readers in the U.S., compared with thousands of mainstream and enthusiast auto websites.
“Men don’t even think about some of the things that matter to women — like trunk space and interior layout and space for your purse,” said Miller, whose site offers vehicle reviews and features.
While few, these specialized car sites can pack some real punch. Women influence nearly 70 percent of new-car purchase decisions and make about 40 percent of the purchases, industry officials say.
And automakers and auto-related companies scour the Web for new women-oriented sites, seeking effective alternative ways to advertise their products.
“Potentially, a new site like (Vroomgirls) has 100 percent of the attention of the visitors she gets — as opposed to maybe 1 percent of the visitors to some general site,” said Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Co. “Consumers want to know about what matters to them, and they want to know it now.”
Ford devotes about a quarter of its marketing budget to digital and social media, Monty said.
Although he declined to say how much the total budget typically is, some outside Ford estimate that it could be more than $1 billion a year.
Neville Manohar, head of digital marketing at Chrysler Group LLC, said he was already aware of Vroomgirls.
“It’s a dynamic environment that is growing and changing,” Manohar said of the Web in general. “One study found that consumers used 18 different sources of information before making a car purchase, which is more than most do with heart surgery.”
Web neophyte Weingarten and her business partner, Marjory Hawkins of Austin, hope to draw a sizable share of those clicks with quality and style.
In its first five weeks, the site attracted 35,000 page views, which Weingarten considers “pretty good.”
She was recently on NBC’s “Today” show to discuss Vroomgirls, as well as shows in Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Miami.
Recent content included an essay by actress Jamie Lee Curtis on her love of driving in her native Los Angeles; reviews of the Audi A6, Ford Explorer and Hyundai Sonata turbo; and road stories on Texas’ historic dance halls and driving Route 66.
“I’m not a girly-girl — I’m a journalist,” said Weingarten, who was also a news reporter at Time and worked at the Dallas Times Herald in the 1980s, where she met her husband. “But I recognize what women like, and I want to give them a product with honest information delivered in an entertaining, stylish way.”
She got the idea for a women’s website at a Mazda Christmas party about a year ago. Another reporter came up with it, then later decided that she didn’t want to participate.
With the print world crumbling around her, Weingarten said, she felt she had to seriously consider the website concept.
“I’m not a website lover,” she said. “I’m a newspaper and print person. But one day, after being in this business all my life, I looked at the landscape and said, ’My beautiful, beautiful business is going away.’ ”
Weingarten, who dipped deeply into savings to initially fund Vroomgirls, said neither she nor Hawkins plans to take a salary from the business for the next year. That will allow them to pay their small staff and about a dozen freelancers who regularly contribute to the site.
In addition, the site has secured as sponsors Toyota, Ferrari and Lamborghini, among others, and has a relationship with TrueCar.com, which drives its retail auto component for readers interested in a new vehicle.
Jerry Reynolds, a former Ford dealer and longtime host of “The Car Pro Show,” said VroomGirls’ Web traffic sounds encouraging for a start-up. Reynolds’ Car Pro website attracts about 70,000 visitors a month.
“Although there are millions of websites, there are even more users,” he said. “There’s enough room for another player in this field, in my opinion.”
Carladynews is one of 10 websites that Miller owns — ranging from travel and food to cocktails and chocolate — and she said she hasn’t seen recent numbers on its traffic. But she likes the site’s demographics.
“It may not be half and half, but I think a lot of men read it,” Miller said. “One of my biggest groups (of men) seems to be auto dealers and manufacturers who read it to try to get an understanding of what women want in cars.”
When Weingarten and Hawkins began discussing the Vroomgirls concept, “we concluded that one of the big things we can offer is quality,” said Weingarten, who has been to racing school and is comfortable on a track.
“I’m not struggling with this concept,” she said. “It’s like I know on some level where it needs to go.”