The Ladies' Pavilion, tucked away in New York's Central Park, is probably the most beautiful bus stop any of us will ever see. The filigreed, cast-iron Victorian structure is powder blue with a gray slate roof, and was built in 1871 to shelter women awaiting streetcars — the buses of their day — at nearby Columbus Circle.
Fast forward more than a century: Just two years ago, Ford Motor's Volvo subsidiary unveiled Your Concept Car, a prototype designed by a team of women. The car included such practical details as a wastebasket and a wide rear window. It also featured a gas cap you didn't have to unscrew — so women could insert the nozzle without breaking their fingernails — and embroidered seats.
The cross-stitch embellishments seem like a throwback, but the fact is, men and women still experience transportation in different ways. Take DaimlerChrysler's $86,000 Dodge Viper SRT-10 sports car. With its hot, loud cabin and 510-horsepower V-10 engine, it was not designed to appeal to women. And so far this year, 94 percent of American Viper registrants have been men.
You can deduce most of what you need to know about the differences between modern male and female car buyers from our lists of the cars that are most popular with each gender. The data, which “Kelley Blue Book” generated for Forbes.com, shows which new-model vehicles have the highest percentage of male versus female registrants and vice-versa.
In general, the cars that are more popular with women than with men are affordable, practical and safe, and have a dash of design flair — cars such as General Motors' sharp new Saturn Sky roadster (read our review). Men, on the other hand, love luxurious, high-performance cars — and stump pullers. The top five “guys’ cars” include Mercedes-Benz's S65 AMG sedan, which has 604 horsepower for 2007 and epitomizes automotive luxury (think massage seats and an auto-pilot function for low speeds), and GMC's Sierra 1500 HD pickup, which can tow over 10,000 pounds of ... whatever.
But don't think that only men prioritize high performance. Three of the five most-female cars are sports cars: the Sky, Audi's iconic TT and Mitsubishi's stylish Eclipse — all two-doors. But while women love sporty and good-looking cars, they keep their purchase prices closer to the $30,000 mark than the $100,000 mark, where many of the most-male vehicles reside.
Men, it turns out, are willing to buy “feminine” cars. For example, registrations for the Eclipse, the most-female car, were 39 percent male in the first five months of 2006, indicating that the kind of affordable sportiness the car provides cuts across gender lines. Most people like a bargain, after all.
But women don't seem to go for the testosterone-fueled sports and luxury cars with the same enthusiasm. No women registered any of the number-one guys’ cars in the first five months of this year: not Chevrolet's brutish Suburban C2500 SUV, or hot-rod derivatives of Mercedes’ S-Class sedan and SL-Class convertible lines.
Our rankings are based on registrations of 2006 and 2007 model-year vehicles in the first five months of 2006, for the entire U.S. We chose to base our rankings on percentages of male versus female registrants, as opposed to raw totals of male-registered and female-registered cars, because a car with 100 percent male registrants is clearly a guys’ car, regardless of its sales volume (we required no minimum number of registrations for the cars on the list). A car with over 100,000 male registrants could sound like a guys’ car — but it could be a high-volume vehicle with 100,000 female registrants too.
Of course, registration data does not necessarily tell us who is driving the cars — parents put their kids’ cars in their names; husbands put their wives’ cars in their names and vice-versa — but it is the closest we can come to understanding gender demographics in new-car purchasing.