Where The Boys Are: Car Mags

Amid all the controversy over gender and transgender issues, from the wage gap and public breastfeeding to “meninism” and public bathrooms, one fact remains beyond dispute: Cars are kind of a guy thing.

Now please don’t misinterpret. I’m in no way denying that women understand cars, enjoy driving them, or generally take an interest in automotive culture.

It’s just that I’ve never seen a group of women standing around a car with the hood up for hours on end, to no discernible purpose, just looking. Maybe occasionally pointing at something and tinkering, or taking a swig of beer, but mostly just: looking.

Yes, whether this is a peculiarly gender-specific form of collective mechanomania, or simply an acceptable form of socializing that doesn’t threaten their masculinity, car worship is indubitably a dude thing.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the audiences for automotive enthusiast magazines: total sausage fest.



Some recent audience research from TEN: The Enthusiast Network, publisher of Motor Trend, Automobile and Roadkill, contains one striking finding. According to GfK MRI, which conducted the study, the readership for its auto enthusiast titles is 90% male – even higher than the 82% male profile for the publisher’s home technology titles, and the 81% male profile for its action sports segment.

Compare that with the audience demographics for other big magazine brands explicitly targeting men. The iconic young men’s lifestyle mag, Maxim, has an audience that’s merely 80% male, as of 2016, while the readership at Playboy was 82.7% male before its short-lived reinvention without nude women.

Men’s Health clocks in at 84.3% male, Men’s Journal at 84% male, and GQ at 72%.

In short, cars – or at least magazines addressing people who like cars – remain the most dudely of preserves. And it’s not just TEN titles. The audience profile for Car and Driver is 87.8% male, Popular Mechanics (which delivers a fair helping of auto content) 87%, Road & Track 95.5%, and Hemmings Motor News a grizzled 97%.

While there’s no mistaking the manly makeup of motor mags, in generational terms, their audiences tend to be more diverse.

Per GfK MRI data cited by TEN, millennials ages 18-34 represent the single-biggest segment of auto enthusiasts in the U.S., with 16 million enthusiasts. In proportional terms that’s 41% of the total 39.3 million auto enthusiasts, while Gen Xers (ages 35-54) make up 36% and the 55+ age demo 23%.

That’s good news for both publishers and automotive marketers, as American car culture shows no sign of abating, despite environmental concerns. Fortunately, Tesla and its emerging rivals in the electric car marketplace seem to realize the value of chrome and horsepower in selling green technology.

This article has been updated with new readership figures for TEN's audience segments.

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