In a first, more women than men attended the Chicago Auto Show this year.

The percentage of women attending the annual event went from 42% in

2013 to an all-time high of 54%.

“This is the first time in six years of measuring dozens of auto shows and surveying thousands of auto-show attendees that we’ve seen attendance skew toward women,” says Steve Bruyn, CEO of Foresight Research, a firm that

studies key influencers of automotive and marine-craft purchase decisions.

“We've noticed that the percentage of women attendees was growing for the past couple of years,” he says of the Chicago exhibition, billed as North America’s largest auto show.

“It was compelling enough that we are already planning to publish a report on the impact of women at auto shows, but we never expected women to be a majority of show visitors,” he says.

Women went to the show for different reasons than men, according to Foresight.

More than two-thirds of men intend to buy a car in the next 12 months, compared with 45% of the attending women who plan to do that.

Foresight polling at the Chicago show indicates:   

  • Men appear more likely to pre-plan visits to particular displays. About 66% of them say they primarily were shopping for a car.
  • Women respond to the fun of the auto show, with about 87% saying that’s mainly why they went.

Foresight says men cite the ability to compare vehicles and shop before going to a dealer as a reason they attended, while women lean toward seeing just-out vehicles and learning about new electronic features in vehicles.

“The first reaction we get is that the shopping men are dragging their wives and girlfriends to the Chicago Auto Show,” Bruyn says. “But we look at what influences people to attend, and men are actually more often influenced by a friend or relative, and women are more likely to respond to social media or a discounted ticket. For auto show marketers, women are here to stay.”

The Chicago Automobile Trade Assn., the nation’s oldest and largest metropolitan dealer organization, sponsors the February show. The extravaganza covers 1.2 million sq.-ft. (111,480 sq.-m) of space at the McCormick Place.

Show crowd pleasers include test tracks automakers set up both inside and outside the sprawling facility. That dates to the first Chicago auto show 113 years ago when a circular wooden track was used to introduce visitors to so-called horseless carriages.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com