EV Makers Think They’ve Figured Out What Women Want

In 2019, six months after Ford finally confirmed it would be building an all-electric version of its most popular vehicle ever, the F-series truck, the automaker released a commercial showing off the prototype. The F-150 Lightning commercial features longtime Ford truck owners--men wearing baseball hats, button-downs, and construction vests--professing their love for the F-Series. Ford had taken the men to a rail yard to prove to them that an electric truck had the power to tow more than 1 million pounds of train carriage.

The person Ford chose to make this demonstration was the truck's chief engineer, a woman named Linda Zhang. For years, the EV has been synonymous with one man: Tesla CEO Elon Musk. And in the US--as well as in more developed EV markets such as China--women typically make up less than a third of the people buying new EVs.

But as the industry pursues mass adoption--in 2021, only 4 percent of US car sales were EVs, compared to 17 percent in Europe and 16 percent in China --carmakers are trying to diversify the image of EVs and encourage more women to buy electric, say analysts. In the past year, Ford, Audi, and Cadillac have all released EV ads starring women behind the wheel. "Automakers are realizing that women play a key role, not just in buying the vehicles but influencing others like males to buy vehicles," says Marc Bland, chief diversity officer at research company S&P Global Mobility.

He adds that car commercials and online content now feature women more heavily as the driver, not just the passenger. Ford declined to share statistics about how many of the 200,000 reservations for the F-150 Lightning were made by women. But the company has made Zhang the female face of its electric truck.

She stars in YouTube ads, and pictures of her standing next to the giant truck have been disseminated across the internet. When WIRED met Zhang in June, she was keen to paint the F-150 Lightning--which started being delivered to customers in May--as a car that appealed to what women want. "That higher seating position is something that we find to be important for people, particularly women, because you're projecting this bit of power," she says. Later, she described how the truck's front storage area, called a "frunk," was useful during a recent trip to the plant nursery. (Ford has previously described it as a place to put golf clubs.) "For the little flowers, I was able to put them in the mega power frunk, and we have little dividers so they don't slide around," she says.

But to persuade more women to buy the F-150 Lightning, Ford first has to overcome a stubborn EV gender gap. Ten years ago, when the first of the latest wave of electric vehicles hit the market, the vast majority of EV drivers were wealthy, well educated, and male, says Scott Hardman, a researcher at UC Davis who studies consumer attitudes towards EVs. Now, the demographics of EV buyers are changing, his most recent surveys show--average income and education levels are coming down.

But 76 percent of buyers in California, America's biggest EV market, still identify as male. "We have not really seen a change in terms of the gender split," Hardman says.