General Motors has introduced a Women's Retail Initiative (WRI), claiming to be the first vehicle maker to initiate a programme exclusively aimed at putting more women into automotive retailing.

The focus of the initiative is to attract women as GM dealer owners and operators. GM also expects women recruits to provide input to the GM marketing teams on how to better meet the expectations of female customers, which some sources estimate now influence around 80 percent of retail vehicle purchases.

The programme will also help dealers create a process for recruiting, developing and promoting women into key dealership management positions.

Bill Lovejoy, group vice president for North America vehicle sales, service and marketing said, "We are very excited to be the leader in the creation of a women's retail initiative. We believe that balancing the gender mix in our franchised dealerships will improve the culture, business practices and positioning of our retail operations."

General Motors currently has approximately 7500 franchised dealerships across the country, of which 203 are owned by women, and the programme will be led by Patricia Roberts, general director, Women's Retail Initiatives.

The WRI is a parallel strategy to General Motors Minority Dealer Development Programme (MDDP).

The WRI will be patterned after MDDP, also the first of its kind, introduced in 1974. Requirements for participation in the programme, assessment, training and financing operations will be the same. Candidates will come from a variety of places such as women's organisations, dealership and GM employees and the marketplace.

Roberts, a GM employee since 1967, formerly was manager of diversity marketing for General Motor's Western Region.