Gays and lesbians buy a lot of cars, and the auto industry has begun to recognize that. Subaru, for one, has been a sponsor of the Showtime series The "L" Word, and also an advertiser on Viacom's Logo channel.
A new survey (of 3,685 respondents) by Gaywheels.com and Sorgenfrei reveals that 67 percent of both gay male and lesbian car buyers consider it "very or somewhat important" for auto companies to exhibit a "gay-friendly" reputation (when it's defined by whether the company offers domestic partner benefits to its employees).
This is a potent market with discretionary spending: 40 percent of respondents who bought their latest vehicle new reported household income over $100,000. And 42 percent of gay men and 39 percent of gay women report household income above that level.
Subaru's wooing of the gay and lesbian audience seems to be working--at least on one level--because it was the overwhelming favorite (chosen by 45 percent of respondents, with Volkswagen and Ford a distant second and third) as the most gay-friendly car company. But that alone apparently doesn't sell cars: Toyota (which had 12.8 percent of the overall car market in 2008) is the most frequently owned brand among people taking the survey.
"We are definitely perceived as gay friendly," says Dominick Infante, a Subaru spokesman. "We believe in fairness for our employees, and we were the first car company to offer benefits to same-sex partners. We have also used [lesbian tennis star] Martina Navratilova as a spokeman in commercials, and advertised in the Advocate and Out."
Dig a bit deeper, and the results get more interesting. According to Joe LaMuraglia, a former Nissan employee who now serves as Gaywheels.com's publisher, Saab deserves special mention as the brand most over-represented among gay and lesbian buyers. The Sweden-based General Motors subsidiary has only a tiny .1 percent of the U.S. market, but gay men are 18 times more likely to own one than is the general public. Lesbians are 11 times more likely to own a Saab.
The brand preferences diverge after Saab. For lesbians, the number two brand in terms of over-representation is Scion, followed by Jeep, Subaru and Saturn. For men, it's Audi, then Mini, VW and Jaguar.
"These results show that when it comes to marketing, gay men and lesbians are two very distinct groups, LaMuraglia said. "And companies that target them should realize they have to be targeted separately. Being gay-friendly and having good brand awareness are very positive factors, but the companies still have to have products that meet all their needs."
Lesbians, by the way, are more likely to buy a car based on environmental factors than are gay men. Gay men say their cars proclaim that they are "successful, sexy and well-off." Lesbians say their car announces that they are "practical, environmentally conscious and partnered."
The Subaru Pink Ride, as seen on The "L" Word: Flickr photo/Carlos 62