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By Andrea Poteet
Did you love Lady Gaga way before the meat dress? Do you salivate waiting for Apple to roll out their latest tech toy? Do you have to have the latest fashions, gadgets and products?
Carmakers are counting on it, especially when marketing their electric vehicles.
A study by consumer research firm Strategic Vision recently found that cars that do well with LGBT buyers early on will generally do well with the wider market later, as they tend to buy newly released products on impulse 30 percent more frequently than the general population.
Among the aspects LGBT car buyers value are exterior and interior styling, technical innovations and environmental friendliness, which may explain why eco-friendly cars like the Toyota Prius and Nissan Juke ranked in the top 10 of cars purchased by LGBT shoppers in the Strategic Vision study.
Automotive Research Analyst Aaron Bragman, of IHS Automotive in Northville, said that while buying patterns are not tracked by sexual orientation, LGBT buyers are part of several demographics – including “double income, no kids” and those with above high school educations – who are actively targeted by makers of electric cars as “first adopters,” who tend to buy new products first.
“A lot of it is the technology,” Bragman says, “some of it is green awareness. It can be viewed as a good ecologically minded purchase, or another way people view it is like buying the latest and greatest Apple product, where it’s something you gotta have because you’re an early adopter and you like the new technology, and you can afford it.”
While he hasn’t seen any direct marketing of electric or hybrid cars to LGBT shoppers, he said carmakers have targeted them for their broader vehicle lines in the past and will continue to.
“The LGBT community is viewed positively by marketing people,” Bragman says. “They are a market a lot of auto companies like to cater to. On average, they do have the disposable income to use, and it’s something a lot of companies are looking at, is how to cater to the LGBT community in terms of marketing.”
To cater to that community, many car companies, like GMC, are improving their image with LGBT shoppers by granting domestic-partner benefits to employees and implementing anti-discrimination policies.
GMC LGBT Communications Liaison Joe LaMuraglia said companies who want to make their brand more “gay friendly” should concentrate on a “sense of commitment” to LGBT issues and buyers.
“The LGBT community is large and a company should be consistent in their message,” LaMuraglia says. “One ad in an LGBT media outlet does not make a gay-friendly company.”
For all shoppers, the downside of most electric vehicles is the distance they can be driven before their batteries run out. Some, like the popular Chevrolet Volt, which was not mentioned in the Strategic Vision study, has a gas tank to back up the battery. Others, like the Nissan LEAF (Leading, Environmentally friendly, Afforable, Family car), require more frequent recharging.
“If I unplug my lease from the wall and I have 100 miles, I’m not going to drive 100 miles, because I’m desperately afraid of being stranded,” says Ben Timmins, an associate web editor with Automobile Magazine in Ann Arbor. “I might drive 50, which is totally fine, but you’re kind of pigeonholing yourself. Making a decision to buy a Nissan LEAF means you can fit your life into it, which kind of runs contrary to what a lot of American carmakers are saying car buyers want: a car that fits their life.”
The popular non-electric Nissan Juke, which ranked 10th among LGBT buyers in the study, performs well with those buyers because it has the “X factor” they look for in a car, Timmins says. Some of that may have to do with its “polarizing” style.
“As someone in cars and as someone who is part of the LGBT population, I think that’s kind of great that Nissan can sort of thumb their nose at people who don’t like it,” Timmins says. “It’s that idea of ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.’ It’s something that many of us as gay people had to do, sort of thumb our nose at people and say ‘you don’t like us, don’t talk to us, go away.’ Nissan took a bold step. It’s a car that’s not right for a sizable portion of the American public. I think that might resonate with gay people who are really in touch with their minority status.”
Timmins said many LGBT buyers also gravitate toward electric cars because they are on the cutting edge of technology and design.
“I think the LEAF and the Volt are almost like whipping out your iPhone back in 2005,” Timmins says. “All your friends are sitting there with what we’ve now come to call ‘dumb phones’ and saying, ‘Wow, that’s the future.’ I think a lot of gay people do like that – the future. And that’s what these cars say when you put them in your driveway.”
He said car companies may be highlighting specific attributes of vehicles that they know appeal to LGBT shoppers, but they aren’t directly marketing to them.
“You get very few car manufacturers that will explicitly market to the gay population,” Timmons says. “I think that because we comprise such a small part of the buying public, calling a car a ‘gay car’ is suicide. If you look at a lot of trending in German cars, for example, a lot of them have desperately tried to shake off the ‘chick car’ moniker. So, with this kind of dominant idea in some part of American media and the American mindset that femininity and homosexuality are kind of synonymous, making a ‘chick car’ kind of means you’re making a gay car.”
While it’s hard to ascribe action to a group as diverse as the LGBT community, Timmins said that the results of the study ring true.
“It’s definitely a stretch to say that the community of people who bought the iPhone or might have bought an iPad will absolutely definitely go out and buy an electric car,” he says. “It’s a huge stretch and I don’t think it’s necessarily true, but if you look at what Strategic Vision is telling us and you go by a gut feeling, yes, I think it should have some measure of success.”
He said that while sexuality crosscuts every other demographic, the LGBT community is seen as trend-setters to marketers because of one trait they do share: an openness to change.
“If you want to look at it on a political scale, our very livelihood depends on change,” Timmins says. “The gay American dream that some of our brethren in some of the Northeastern states are now living – the gay 1950s house, car, picket fence, 2.3 kids – that very idea depends on political change. This country is in flux with its attitude toward us, which we like – we are actively trying to have our perception change – and so, if we want change outside our front door, we might as well be open to it on showroom floors. “