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Specialized websites beckon to women who care about cars

January 05, 2012|By Terry Box
  • Salesman Isaiah Randolph showing a C63 model to customers Mike Greene and Cori Wofford, both from Los Angeles, at Mercedes Bens of Beverly Hills, in 2010.
Salesman Isaiah Randolph showing a C63 model to customers Mike Greene and… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

Reporting from 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, said Tara Weingarten, a founder of Vroomgirls, one of the newest of a small but growing number of automobile websites aimed at women.

"Where men see eye candy in a hot car, women wonder, 'How will my life be different if I choose that car?'" she said.

"I want to leave out the jargon and humanize cars," said Weingarten, a 49-year-old 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 CarLady News on the Web, a Dallas-based site aimed at women that has been up for "six or seven years," publisher Madelyn Miller said.

Miller, 64, said that about a dozen women-oriented car websites 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 there are few of these specialized car sites, they can pack some real punch. Women influence nearly 70% of new-car purchase decisions and make about 40% 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% of the attention of the visitors she gets — as opposed to maybe 1% 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 outsiders estimate that it could be more than $1 billion a year.

Neville Manohar, head of digital marketing at Chrysler Group, 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, Texas, 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 magazine 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."

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.

Box writes for the Dallas Morning News/McClatchy.

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