More women buying sports cars

When it comes to male enhancements, few things have made deeper market penetration than the sports car.

But emerging from a recession in which men fared poorly, luxury vehicles are finding enthusiastic new owners in the opposite sex — so much so, in fact, that growth in female demand for many models is outpacing that of males.

“We find more and more women today are investing in themselves,” says Helen Ching-Kircher, president of Downtown Porsche in Toronto. “And that includes buying sport vehicles.”

Just don’t call it a mid-life crisis.

Rather, Debbie Nigro, founder of the over-40 women’s website, describes these big-ticket purchases as “mid-life corrections” — a way for boomer moms, who’ve long put their families’ needs before their own, to indulge in some much-deserved selfishness.

“A lot of women at this stage of life are reassessing what they want to achieve and acquire,” says Nigro, who drives a Jaguar convertible. “It’s a time to correct the path and steer toward what they’ve always hoped for.”

The Porsche brand, once so male-dominated as to deserve its own truck nuts, is closing in on sales that will see women represent one in 10 Porsche owners nationwide. For the more versatile Cayenne model, females already make up 13 per cent of buyers in Canada — and roughly 18 per cent of those at Downtown Porsche, which targets women through such events as ladies’ track days and golf tournaments.

New data from sheds further light on the trend.

The auto lease marketplace reports that demand from women for Ford Mustangs is up 11.7 per cent since 2010, compared to 9.6 per cent among men; female demand for Chevrolet Corvettes is up 14.3 per cent, versus 8.4 per cent among men; the luxe Mercedes S Class, BMW M Series and Infiniti G37, meanwhile, are up 16.8, 13.8 and 9.7 per cent respectively among women, compared to 12.1, 8.6 and 2.3 per cent with men.

“The figures encapsulate everything from the number of searches for those vehicles on the site to the number of transactions being processed,” says John Sternal, vice-president of LeaseTrader. “So it’s not just people looking for vehicles but people taking over the vehicles as well.”

Sternal suggests recent shifts in spending power are playing a role. In Canada, for example, changes to the employment rate in 2009 suggest men lost nearly three times as many jobs as women during the economic downturn.

But that’s only one part of a much larger story in which women’s labour force participation has reached 75 per cent, greater equity is being reported in the home, and women’s earning levels — though still lagging in absolute numbers — saw a growth rate double that of men’s between 2000 and 2008.

So why aren’t we seeing more aggressive industry advertising to women? With the possible exception of chilly swimming pools, it seems nothing causes summer shrinkage like a muscular roadster being rebranded a “chick car.”

“If it’s a chick car, they’re afraid guys won’t buy it,” says industry expert Courtney Caldwell, editor-in-chief of Road & Travel Magazine. “They’re essentially catering to men’s very fragile egos.”

Among the handful of exceptions is a Cadillac campaign featuring TV star Kate Walsh at the wheel of a CTS and purring: “When you turn your car on, does it return the favour?”

Caldwell says the sexy ads work because they appeal equally to women’s guts and men’s groins.

Notably, a 2010 study in the British Journal of Psychology found that although men are perceived as better-looking behind the wheel of a sexy car, the same effect doesn’t hold true for women drivers.

Fortunately, this is of little concern to the ladies who shell out big bucks to own luxury vehicles.

“It doesn’t represent status to me,” says Toronto’s Laurel Ward, a stay-at-home mom who has owned four Porsches. “It’s a visceral experience. When I’m driving, all the worries and the stresses of the day are forgotten; I feel free and happy and independent.”

Similarly, Vancouver Island’s Paige Young says her passion for Corvettes is rooted in a search for adventure, not attention.

“I think us women like them for the same reason men do: they’re fast, they’re powerful, and they give you a thrill,” says Young, whose pulse quickens at the sight of a vintage muscle car. “I don’t want to be a spectator. I want to be a participant.”

Paige Young, of Parksville, B.C., with her 1992 Corvette — affectionately called Queen Bee. Auto insiders say more and more women are turning to sports cars as a way of treating themselves. Photograph by: Handout, Postmedia News