Are sexy women really necessary to sell cars?

In the past few years, members of  (automotive public relations practitioners), have been interested in reaching women car buyers through “lifestyle” media.  Indeed, I’m told, that women now account for more than half of all new car purchases.

I hear the same message from car journalists; that their publications are increasingly targeting the female market – recognising this pulls in the automotive advertising.

So why were pretty young models the primary promotional tool at the 2006 Geneva Show?  Check out the Autoblog‘s post on “The Girls at Geneva” – there is even a photo gallery stimulating lively comments.

Is it just a bit of fun?  Is it part of creating an aspirational, glamour image for cars? Or does it show a lack of creative thinking in the marketing departments at the car companies?

Are men really only interested in cars when an attractive female is standing beside it?  So why aren’t there more women car sales staff in dealerships?  And what about the impact on potential women buyers?  Doesn’t this all contribute to the impression of car showrooms as being sexist and unappealing to women?

I suppose for the models, they may get their photographs in magazines adding to their portfolio – and it is probably well paid work (although hard on the feet).  Most will know nothing – and care less – about the car they are perched upon.

This image of girls and cars has become an icon of motorshows – and the car launch industry.  When did this approach begin – I found this 1954 shot from Paris, presenting a very stylish lady beside a Die Valkyrie.

But the Lotus Esprit launch of 1976 – which some might think of as the heyday of bikini-clad bonnet beauties is without such adornment. 

Are the rumours of topless young women draped across bonnets untrue? When did the view that sexy girls are a key component of motoring shows begin? And how come, in this supposedly politically correct days, this approach still continues?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “Are sexy women really necessary to sell cars?”

  1. Thank you for an interesting post. It is, indeed, surprising that car manufacturers can get away with this these days. I’ll be interested if you find out exactly when all this began – and I’m sure you will!

  2. How many of the photographers are men?

    There is still a huge problem I think in the car business with perceptions of women. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been patronised in car showrooms and at garages. I had to go into a garage yesterday to get something fixed. Hadn’t been there before and was trying it out because it was very handy. It was like stepping into the ark – smelly air freshener, local radio blaring and complete disregard of my diagnosis of the problem or what I would like done. Sadly it’s prices were out of the ark too so I might have to endure it all again!!

  3. It does seem a bit of an evolutionary process. My Mercedes dealer is very female friendly without being patronising – they have women and men in the service department (well the nice shiny grey work stations), a window to the service bay and you get to talk with the mechanics who are polite and helpful. It is expensive, but not worse that other garages.

    However, the last time I took my Peugeot into a small dealership in the New Forest, the service department felt like going into an old shed – with an old guy in a scruffy overall.

    Maybe the motor industry needs a bit more Darwin evolution.

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