Women are returning to the new-vehicle market and helping the industry’s chances of surpassing a 12.25 million sales year, according to CNW Market Research.

Based on the opening months of this year, women’s share of floor traffic jumped more than 40 percent and continued to climb toward the end of March. This activity is a dramatic improvement from previous years, according to the research firm.

In 2006, about 45 percent of all new-vehicle floor traffic consisted of women. However, from that period until 2009, women’s share of floor traffic declined sharply and hit 32 percent last year.

According to Art Spinella, the return of women to dealer showrooms is critical to the industry’s recovery, as women returning to or dropping out of the market typically signals where sales are headed.

Spinella added that women tend to shop longer than men before making a vehicle purchase, with their shopping process taking about seven months before a vehicle purchase vs. five-and-a-half months for men. In addition, women visit dealer showrooms about four months prior to purchase, while men visit showrooms two months prior to purchase.

Spinella said the increase in floor traffic among women could translate into additional sales by mid-summer.

First quarter data also indicates that more women will become primary buyers of new vehicles this year. In 2005, about 45 percent of new-car sales were to women. That figure dropped as home-centric economic costs – such as food prices – increased. Women accounted for 41 percent of primary buyers in 2009, but CNW expects that number to increase to 45 percent this year.

These primary buyers are also spending more in the first quarter than they did in 2007 through 2009. The average payment has climbed from $280 to more than $300, indicating a willingness to take on slightly higher debt, Spinella wrote.

Spinella believes that women will make or break this year’s auto sales. “Without their strong return to market, 11.7 million units is a likely result for 2010,” wrote Spinella. “If women come back to market in a pattern similar to the first quarter, the industry could easily add another 800,000 to 950,000 units of volume.”