October 25, 2002

Car-based mid-size SUVs bring in educated female buyers

Tustin, California – AutoPacific’s most recent data on the United States SUV consumer have just been released. The latest crop of car-based mid-size Sport Utility vehicles (SUVs) has succeeded in attracting an important type of buyer: the educated female. For many vehicles in this segment, there is a high percentage of well-educated women buyers — buyers that tend to have very high standards and are well informed about their purchases.

Quite simply, the sophistication of these vehicles has made them far more amenable to savvy female buyers who demand refinement, ride quality, value, and functionality. Many women who have high expectations of vehicles in these respects did not find these attributes in traditional truck-based SUVs. In many cases, those vehicles have had truck-like ride and handling, agricultural-sounding engines, difficult ingress and egress due to their high step-in height, and less overall refinement.
The new car-based mid-size SUVs address these concerns quite well. Being based on unit-body car platforms, vehicles like Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Toyota Highlander offer ride and handling that is comparable to many sedans and a level of overall refinement associated with sedans rather than trucks. Furthermore, their frameless chassis allows for a lower floor for easier ingress and egress while maintaining the ground clearance that people expect from an SUV. In addition to these strengths, these vehicles offer all of the other attributes that have made SUVs so popular: excellent functionality and utility, command-of-the-road seating position, and high image.

As a result, many of these new car-based SUVs have attracted women buyers who appreciate these vehicles’ ease of use and refinement. For example, according to data from AutoPacific’s 2002 Research Suite, 61% of Ford Escape buyers are female, and 55% have a college education. This is very significant for the Ford brand, since only 40% of buyers of Ford’s other SUVs are women. In addition, attaining such well-educated buyers has much significance as well, since only 37% of Ford buyers have a college education. With Escape, Ford is succeeding in diversifying the appeal of their SUVs.

The story is similar for other new car-based mid-size SUV entries such as Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe. In the case of each of these vehicles, they have succeeded in earning buyers who are more likely female and college educated compared to their respective brands.

This dynamic is significant on a couple of levels. First, these vehicles address the concerns of those (particularly women) who until now stayed away from SUVs because they were too unrefined and difficult to handle in day-to-day use. Second, because SUVs are, more than ever, truly meeting the needs of today’s drivers, SUV sales will continue to flourish. While SUV sales are showing signs of reaching maturity, AutoPacific forecasts that SUV sales will number about 4 million in 2002, and with more car-based SUVs arriving over the coming years, total SUV sales will grow to over 4.2 million by 2007.

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