Tag Archives: Honda

Will a cute car cut it with women in the UK?


Too many car manufacturers are lazy. When asked to create cars for women, they take the easy route, painting it mauve or pink, and call it a day. You can almost imagine the overworked executive stifling a yawn as he approves the “lavender model with ‘girly’ graphics” such is the design fate often accorded to female car buyers.

So it’s good to see that one of Honda’s range of new cars is the Honda Fit She’s (yes that’s the right name and the right way round and use of the apostrophe we’re told) which is their recent model created for women in Japan, involving a complete female makeover it seems.

But surely this is about time? If men can have their high performance masculine looking machines, why can’t women have a pretty and stylish car that’s ticking all the boxes for her? After all, we account for more than 40% of all car sales in the UK.

So whilst we applaud Honda for acknowledging that women are VIP customers with different needs, we must also ask: is the Honda Fit She’s actually any good? Bearing in mind that it isn’t in the UK (UK nearest equivalent is the Honda Jazz) this must be a hypothetical debate of course because evidently we haven’t test driven it yet.

Adult cute and the ‘kawaii’ effect in Japan

From a design perspective, Honda claims to have created something called “adult cute.” Not a good start for the UK market, but remember that this car has sold well in Japan so this is clearly driven by their perceptions than the UK’s. And will need a total marketing communications rethink for us.

Yes there’s a lot of pink and presumably Honda can quantify the appeal here because their popular Jazz model comes in a metallic pink option. In the design language of car manufacturers, this essentially comes down to using colours women (supposedly) like: pink stitching in the seats, pink bezels around dials, and so on. Probably pink overload for many but you can also get the Fit She’s in brown and white (in Japan remember).

The exterior has been designed with cute in mind too. Honda describes the large headlamps and soft front grille as a big, purring kitten, the sort of car that’d appear in a Hello Kitty cartoon. There is a huge culture of cute things in Japan – called ‘kawaii‘ (think Hello Kitty, Mario and Pokemon sounding names like Pikachu, Peko Chan, Rilakkuma and Doraemon).

Moreover the Fit She’s also boasts a windscreen that reportedly blocks almost 99% of all harmful UV rays that cause wrinkles. And there’s supposedly a high-tech air conditioner dubbed “Plasmacluster” which is supposed to enhance the skin quality for passengers… but it doesn’t tell us how…

Would the Honda Fit She’s sell in the UK

The obvious question to ask now is whether the Honda Fit She’s would sell in the UK? And the simple answer is ‘probably not as is.’

The UK is a tougher and considerably more feminist market than Japan’s. Few British women will be swayed by pink stitching and cute colours although more might choose this as a design option providing it wasn’t compulsory. But women buy Hondas because of their known reliability and we must also remember their contribution to the UK economy in terms of employment at their car assembly plant in Swindon.

A call for cars with women in mind?

That said, an overwhelming majority of women report dissatisfaction with their driving experience and want something contoured to their needs, recent research shows. This is the reason why Nissan Motors’ boss recently called on car companies to make cars with women in mind. This means better seats, pedals that can accommodate high heels, and less sexist marketing pitches.

In conclusion, the Fit She’s, as it exists today, solves very few of these problems. The wrinkle-reducing UV-blocking windshield and skin-improving air-conditioning are likely to be dismissed as sexist in the UK because women expect a lot more for their money in terms of the car and the dealership shopping experience.

Undoubtedly Honda and other car manufacturers are working on getting this right for us in future so let’s wait and see what they think we want and will pay for cars to rival the female favourites like the Picanto, DS3 and Mini on our roads today.

Car sales CAN make a difference

Most marketers know to carve out a memorable niche by identifying what makes a product or service different from the rest.

Different in terms of being better, with tailored content perhaps, for a new market… or just cheaper than the rest.

In an industry used to mass marketing more than segmentation (and where the typical message is more male oriented than female regardless of the audience) this brings more marketing challenges to the UK motor industry than most. Especially when the UK’s neighbouring export market is faring worse economically than it is.

Bigger, better, best?

Despite the encouraging news that UK motor manufacturers continue to lead the UK economy in terms of job generation, car sales and exports in Q1, on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Professor Karel Williams suggested that Vauxhall, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Toyota car manufacturers will struggle for position in the UK in future. This is because they are being squeezed in the middle by cheaper and smaller Hyundais and newcomer Dacia with status seekers and business drivers buying the likes of premium BMW, Audi and Mercedes brands that they presumably perceive to be better at the upper end of the market.

This matters to the UK because most of these supposedly ‘squeezed middle’ brands are the car manufacturers we read about today, leading the UK out of recession we hope, in terms of jobs and exports.

Customer service is key…

This means there’s even more to play for in terms of customer service with Jaguar Land Rover setting a great example of how to move from mediocre to leading advantage in a short period of time. Not just car sales, aftersales (car servicing, repairs and MOT work) is BIG business for dealership groups, specialist bodyshops and independent garages alike. At all levels, there is a real opportunity for those that can do it better to distinguish themselves from the rest (and there is a lot of scope through mediocrity here) gaining the reputation for being a better business as a result.

…providing the price is right

But the price you pay for a new car in a dealership is still too grey an area for my liking.

Why should any motorist, male or female, pay less for a car because they buy it towards the end of a sales period when the salesman is more inclined to share his commission? And why should women feel the need to take a man with them to negotiate that final price for fear of being sold a lemon?

More transparency is needed here, especially when it comes to innocent motorists who don’t understand the unnecessarily complex negotiating game and end up paying more than they should for a new car, having been baffled by the complications of trading in values and car finance in the process.

More patriotic pride needed for new cars ‘Made in GB’?

Alternatively our government can ‘encourage’ British motorists to buy cars (and other goods) made in GB of course, harnessing the power of national pride which turned so many sporting cynics into London 2012 Olympic fanatics.

This is surely what we can expect the likes of France and Germany to do soon, to secure their home markets alongside competing imports.

Then we can all feel EVEN MORE proud of our UK motor industry; when buying British means fair prices and superior service levels that don’t patronise or rip off male or female motorists who want to be able to buy cars and garage services on trust.


Heather vs Honda

Heather Peters takes on HondaA foxy lady driver who expected her high-tech hybrid to do what it said on the tin expects car maker Honda to pay for not delivering the 50mpg it promised, albeit after some 5 years of ownership.

Heather Peters has taken her fight to the small claims court in laid back Los Angeles because experts think she has a better chance of winning her case in a court with more relaxed standards and could get a payout many times higher than she’d get otherwise.

If others follow her lead, she estimates Honda could be forced to pay as much as $2bn (£1.3bn) in damages estimated as 200,000 cars and drivers each negotiating $10,000.

And then there’d be all the other manufacturers cars that fail to perform as well as promised…

Heather is a state employee and ex-lawyer who seems to have a grievance here, whether it’s legitimate or not is another matter. She argues that the Japanese manufacturer knew her 2006 Civic Hybrid would not achieve the 50mpg as advertised. As the vehicle’s battery deteriorated over time, it barely achieved 30mpg, she said. Had she known this she’d never have bought the car apparently.

“The sales people said 50 miles per gallon, but they didn’t say if you run your air conditioning and you remain in stop-and-go traffic, you’re going to get 29 to 30 miles per gallon” she said. “If they did, I would have gotten [sic] the regular Civic.”

On their part, Honda said that Heather had never contacted the company to complain or express any concern about her vehicle’s fuel economy until she sent a letter in late November and then filed her suit shortly afterwards.

“Once the suit was filed, Honda immediately offered to inspect her vehicle and work with her on the findings, but those offers were rejected,” the company said in a statement.

The company also said it did not believe Heather was deceived.

“The window sticker that was attached to her vehicle (as required by federal law) clearly indicated that her mileage would vary depending on driving conditions, options, vehicle condition and other factors,” the statement said.

It’ll be interesting to see the court’s definition of ‘reasonable’ in terms of the variation between the 50mpg suggested and the 30mph obtained. That and bearing in mind the allegation that Heather hadn’t contacted Honda before last November.

Watch this space; especially other disgruntled car buyers who feel the same as Heather.


Honda Alice is a welcome difference

Alice and her father Paul Brayley

Brayley Honda car dealership in Hemel Hempstead clearly values the female purse and is doing something about this with a workforce comprising 30% who are women.

Now you might think (like me) that a ratio of 70:30 is still overly male skewed when c80% of all household purchases are made by women but this is the retail motor industry where, according to the Equal Opportunities Commission, women account for less than 10% of the UK workforce. That’s a shocking statistic with so many customer facing roles ideal for  women like Alice, in the photo.

23-year-old Alice Brayley has turned her back on a career in teaching to join her father’s franchised dealership Honda Brayley in Hemel Hempstead. Despite a degree in sociology she chose to join the motor trade following in father’s footsteps. Starting as a sales administrator Alice hopes to move into a management role soon, given the opportunity, once she completes the manufacturer’s management development programme at the Honda Institute in Slough.

The reasons that many women don’t rush to get jobs in the retail motor industry like Alice or to do business with the motor industry as customers aren’t at all complicated. When it comes to buying cars and garage services too many of us are wary shoppers, intimidated by the ‘too blokey’ atmosphere in workshops and showrooms. So imagine what it’s like for young female staff who don’t have Alice’s family business advantages…

As customers, many females worry about being overcharged, patronised and sold things we don’t need. So much so we often feel distinctly ill at ease, take a man with us for support and would prefer to go almost anywhere else. And so we do.

Yet the business case for being a female friendly garage or showroom in her mind is all to do with competitive advantage and word of mouth. Get it right for women and we’ll come more often and tell our friends. This is even more important for businesses selling fleet cars, apparently, where according to the latest RAC Report on Motoring, eight out of ten company cars are chosen by a female. Surely female staff like Alice are better placed than many men to understand what women want and to appreciate why we should get it?

Oh that more manufacturers, dealership and garage groups would recognise the need to achieve a 50:50 gender balance at the very top of their business. The problem is that too few talented females are determined to fight their way to the top in an industry when there are more female friendly industries for us to enjoy and succeed in.

What is needed in virtually all cases is an industry commitment first and foremost and then an individual Board willingness to make the retail motor industry a genuinely more female friendly one. Starting with female Directors including NEDs bringing functional expertise rather than motor industry thinking which is often inclined towards the status quo. And then to make the same progress at senior and then junior management levels.

Until a genuinely female friendly company culture can be seen and felt throughout the retail motor industry, there seems little point encouraging and feeding new female talent in through the front door when they then come up against the same old male dominated status quo and first floor ceiling…


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