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Many Car Makers, Dealers Have Women Shoppers in Mind

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RALEIGH — Setting foot on a car lot can be pretty intimidating, especially for women. Can you believe what the salesman is telling you? How do you know if you are really getting a good deal?

"I feel a little vulnerable because I'm not exactly sure what to ask," said car buyer Shelia Schaffer.

"Can I do this by myself? Do I want to do this by myself? How can I find out if what he's telling me is right?" asked car buyer Rhea Woodhouse.

Carol Wakely is looking for a car she can share with her daughter who is about to get her first driver's license. After shopping for cars all day, Wakely said one dealer's low-key approach was a relief.

"This is our first day out looking. We've been to four or five places, and they have been really great here," said Wakely.

"People come out and say, 'Are you buying today? What kind of car payment are you looking for?' We don't do that here," said Bill Shotwell from Saturn of Raleigh.

Shotwell says women influence 85 percent of car purchases. He says Saturn's one-price, no haggle policy makes women feel comfortable shopping there.

"We've always taught to talk to the female because she's probably going to have a big impact on it. If she's the buyer, I don't know why you're talking to him," said Shotwell.

That strategy worked with Shelia Schaffer twice. She just bought her secondSaturn.

"I think it's important that they treat you with dignity and respect and answer your questions knowing that we're probably not as knowledgeable as a male," said Schaffer.

Female friendly marketing is not limited to sales strategies. When Chrysler redesigned its minivan, they used suggestions from moms who drive them. It was their idea to add the tabs to hang your plastic grocery bags from.

"And this is something they did in '96. It was on the recommendation of moms because they're going to the grocery store. They're tired of grocery bags going all over the place, so that was a unique design," said Bob Puckett of Elkins Chrysler Plymouth.

Women also convinced Chrysler to outfit its Town & Country minivan with a cargo net you can put your purse in and seats you can move without much effort. The van also sits low, so it is easy to step into.

"There's a lot of moms who drive this vehicle in this day and time, taking kids to school and sports activities. TheChryslermini-van is really attractive to a lot of the ladies," said Puckett.

These days, women are showing up at car dealerships better prepared. They are using the Internet to do research. Woodhouse went online before she set foot on a car lot.

"If you don't know exactly what you want, you can type in key words, and it'll push you where you need to be. If you're looking for certain words or certain mileage, you can key all that info in," said Woodhouse.

The Internet is helping women become smart shoppers. Dealers are crafting a friendlier sales pitch, and car makers are building vehicles with moms in mind.

The bottom line is that women may no longer need to bring a man along to seal the deal.