Back-seat buying and driving

Manufacturers target female car buyers in Saudi Arabia with passenger-friendly vehicles.

Published December 10, 2007 8:10PM (EST)

Today, Reuters published an article headlined "Car Makers Target Saudi Women Despite Driving Ban." As you can likely guess, the article isn't about subversive marketing on the part of car manufacturers.

Women account for about half of car ownership in Saudi Arabia, despite being banned from driving; women of means simply hire chauffeurs. (Less affluent women have to rely on male relatives.) By the end of last year 75,522 Saudi women owned some 120,334 cars, and women's car ownership grew 60 percent from 2003 to 2006. Carmakers have taken note and are producing cars in female-friendly colors like, you guessed it, pink and purple. And, as we've written previously, an all-women auto showroom opened that allows women to check under the hood so long as they don't actually get behind the wheel.

Manufacturers also aim to loosen women's purse strings by marketing passenger-friendly vehicles. For instance, Cadillac's new model has rear-seat controls for "everything but the steering wheel." Yann Lassade of General Motors in Dubai told Reuters, "The new design is perfect for a chauffeur-driven car, with all the space and controls at the back seat."

Well, er, at least Saudi women rich Saudi women will be riding in comfort until the driving ban is repealed. It's likely to be a while. After King Abdullah signaled that the ban would be overturned when society is ready for it, the League of Demanders of Women's Right to Drive Cars in Saudi Arabia started a signature-collecting campaign -- but it was only able to secure a couple of hundred signatures.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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