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Driving change: GM CMO Molly Peck examines the impact of the Saudi driving decree

According to Bloomberg analysts, the projected impact to the economy of the recent decree that women in Saudi Arabia are to be allowed to drive cars could be as much as $90bn over time. This has a sizeable economic impact when you consider it’s only part of the government’s progressive strategy for the overall ‘Vision 2030’ to create a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation for its almost 33 million inhabitants – a figure set to increase to 39 million by 2030.

Seeing women drivers in the kingdom is, for some, the cherry on top of a more integrated societal ecosystem, especially when you add to it women’s right to vote in municipal elections, and the opportunity to attend mixed classes at some universities and music concerts in sports stadiums – as was seen in the recent National Day celebrations. Of course, it’s the automotive industry and its adjacent industry segments that will vie for the proverbial cherry, spending millions of dollars on research and audience insights to ensure theirs is the preferred brand for women drivers in Saudi Arabia.

As our largest market in the GCC for vehicle sales, Saudi Arabia has always been incredibly important to Chevrolet, so from a business perspective the opening up of a new subsection within that market is clearly a significant opportunity.

Many brands, including Chevrolet, have been conducting research amongst Saudi Arabia’s women in anticipation of the change in the law. We can draw some lessons from this primary research as well as insights from other overseas markets where automotive brands execute gender-inclusive campaigns. An important next step in developing our marketing plans will see us pursuing insights from all stakeholders in this major change in the cultural and economic fibre of Saudi society.

Primary research indicates that the majority of women sampled through focus groups in the ­kingdom are quite strongly self-expressive and feel this decree will have a positive impact on their lives. Women in Saudi Arabia are also, it seems, very interested in cars. Now, we are developing some interesting hypotheses, which we want to road test based on some existing non-proprietary research that suggests more than 80 per cent of women are already thinking about getting a driving licence and 60 per cent expect to buy a new vehicle in the near future. In real terms, that’s a potential one million additional drivers on the roads in just under a year.

Women have long been an influential force behind car purchases in the kingdom, and while we at Chevrolet already reach women with much of our communications, as is the inclusive nature of the media, now it is a case of us connecting with them as potential drivers. Digital and CRM channels will offer much tighter targeting than traditional advertising and, given the unique circumstances, we anticipate being able to explore these channels in ways that allow us to target messages to newly licensed women drivers.

Just as with any target group – millennials, GenZ, baby boomers or women – we must respect the diversity within homogenous groups and be reminded that not all members of the group are the same. So, while the data suggests an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the news amongst women in Saudi, as with the male audience motivations for purchase will vary among Saudi women. Preferences may not always pivot on what we might expect to be traditional female concerns, such as the safety features of a vehicle. Women may in fact want a fast, stylish car with high-performance technology like the classic Chevrolet Camaro.

We will need to get as close as we can to these potential new customers to listen to what they are looking for and how we should engage them with the product, the brand and the dealership experience.

For us, focusing on elements such as performance, driving comfort, safety and fuel efficiency will be key to delivering on Chevrolet’s promise to unearth new possibilities, a promise that we see to be wholly relevant to this new reality.

At Chevrolet we engineer our cars with our customers at heart, and we will work very closely with our dealer partners in Saudi Arabia in the coming months to ensure we engage with our potential new drivers and deliver to them an experience that is just as customer-centric as our cars.