It’s no secret that women have been wielding their power in the automotive world when it comes to vehicle purchases and maintenance decisions—and car manufacturers are always eager to know what catches their eye. Now most of the time it’s no different than what a male consumer looks for. But, there are distinguishable features that women of all stripes focus on that often don’t make the typical car review. So we sent our FYI reporter Yolanda Vazquez to a first-of-its-kind all-female gathering in California to find out what women REALLY want in a new ride.

KATHY: So I just want to give you a few highlights of what’s new about the 2011 Town & Country.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Back-to-back demos of nearly a dozen different vehicles. 

AMY CORSINITA: It comes in three powertrains. 

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Sets the stage for the first-ever, all-female Heels and Wheels event in Palms Springs, California.

CHRISTINE OVERSTREET: When I first had this idea, I was like maybe this will happen, maybe it won’t.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Christine Overstreet created the gender specific event after she began to notice an increase in the vehicle buying power of women. Recent statistics show 62 percent of new car purchases are made by women—making them a major player in the consumer auto market.

CHRISTINE OVERSTREET: I think manufacturers are seeing that more and more and they’re understanding that women have such an influence in buying now compared to 20 years ago.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: So to get a better handle on what women want in a vehicle--Overstreet turned to the experts.

VALERIE MENARD: It did seem like it had some nice family friendly features. It had a built in booster seat.   

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: A group of insightful, female automotive journalists took each vehicle through the rigors of a comprehensive road test.

VALERIE: I love this little pass through compartment. It’s perfect for my purse. 

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: They looked at aspects that are sometimes given smaller emphasis in male-oriented car reviews. Things like fuel efficiency, safety features, child car seat adaptability, cabin functionality, easy-to-use cargo space and female-friendly details like this dead pedal in the new GMC Denali

SUSAN ECKEL: It’s designed to be offset so you can use a heel, you won’t scrape up the back of your heel.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: features editor Carroll Lachnit is writing a piece on in-vehicle connectivity.

CAROLL LACHNIT: The assumption is I think in a lot of people’s minds cars are a guy thing, but in reality the majority of people doing the shopping and a lot of the serious decision making about who’s actually buying the car, what’s getting bought are women.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Being able to do back-to-back comparisons is a refreshing change for Kristin Varela of

KRISTIN VARELA: We particularly communicate about them differently so it’s fascinating being with a group of like-minded women.

VALERIE MENARD: When I write about cars I definitely take it from the consumer point of view.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Valerie Menard of Decisive Auto Latino focuses on the Hispanic perspective to car buying.

VALERIE MENARD: I think we have to recognize that women are the top choice makers when it comes to consuming any product. So this kind of event recognized the importance that we play as consumers.   

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: After a full day of note gathering and picture taking, the women reconvene to discuss the details of each vehicle.

SOT: Chrysler Town and Country.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Everyone chimes in adding their two cents worth on the extensive lineup of cars and SUVs.

The good thing about this open forum is that all of the feedback will remain anonymous. A list will be compiled of the pros and cons of each vehicle and then submitted to manufacturer rep for review

SUSAN ECKEL: 80 percent of the buying decisions are made from women—so who do we want to talk to—we want to talk to the women.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Chief engineer Susan Eckel of GMC Denali can’t wait to hear what these seasoned journalists have to say about their new –and now more --elegant crossover vehicle.

SUSAN ECKEL: We’re pulling in, you know, new people; new buyers into the GMC showroom at a rate of about 45-48 percent and of those 50 percent are women.

AMY CORSINITA: The Optima Hybrid has its own unique telematic system.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Amy Corsinita from Kia brought the new 2011 Kia Optima hybrid for the women to drive. She says early feedback-good or bad—is closely linked to design change.

AMY CORSINITA: We’re able to make really quick changes-take it back to our engineers and they’re able to go wow this is a concern-make it better before it hits the market.

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: With two days of hard work behind them---the ladies wrap up the inaugural event with a group photo.

SOT: Heels and Wheels!

YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: And a late night gathering that lets these consumer-savvy girls---just have a little fun.