This article originally appeared in our September 2021 issue.
According to the Bureau of Transportation, medium or heavy-duty diesel pickups made up 3.3 percent of all vehicle sales in the United States in 2014. According to the Diesel Technology forum, that number rose to 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2021.
Essentially, the diesel industry is strong and getting stronger. SEMA saw a record number of entrepreneurs submit applications this year for their Launch Pad Competition talking place in November, a promising sign for an industry continually in search of further innovation and progress. Despite these indications of sustainable growth, it’s hard not to wonder if the diesel industry is holding itself back.
It’s no secret the truck scene is male-dominated. It’s difficult to find a woman-owned decked-out diesel pickup with all the modifications; impressive builds owned by men are much more common.
How come? Is it an interest thing? Perhaps, but the question has to be asked: are we discouraging women from getting involved and how is that hurting the industry?
LGE-CTS Motorsports, a shop owned and operated by sisters Sara and Theresa Contreras, is located in Southern California. They specialize in building up trucks, jeeps and any other vehicle to be able to take on an off-roading adventure. Sara says they receive a lot of hateful comments from men on social media, but sometimes it turns into a positive.
“I feel like there are a lot of men who think because they are on a computer they can make any mean comment they want and it’s okay,” Sara said, “But I have also seen in those same comments other men in our industry who know my sister and me and have stood up for us and made some of the most wonderful comments. Men in the industry have been our biggest mentors and helped guide us. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”
While support from men has been vital to Sara’s success, she also sees the support from other women as integral to the process. Groups such as Women in Automotive and SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN) are designed to help build women up and offer help in their journey through the automotive industry. Sara is the chair-elect for SBN.
“The support that we have for women in the industry and girls that are starting out is pretty amazing,” she explained. “To hear all the girls’ stories and the struggles they go through—it’s always nice to have someone you can call and talk to that can relate or understand what you are going through.”
Chelsey Marie is a model for Diesel Hotties, a diesel organization for women. Before joining Diesel Hotties, Chelsey considered herself an extreme introvert who never got in front of a camera. She now helps organize photo shoots, video events and coordinates the application process for the group.
“Diesel Hotties allows women to do two things: find other ladies across the United States that have the same passion in diesels as themselves and help bring confidence by photographing them with trucks,” Chelsey said. “This is important to provide the ladies a support system as well as help ladies grow self-confidence. Unfortunately, social media is filled with keyboard warriors so having a support system boost you up helps you to keep being yourself.”
In Sara’s 25 years in the industry, she hasn’t had too many negative experiences, but they have still come. At SEMA or other shows when Sara asks men about their builds, she sometimes is not asked the same in return.
“Later I found out most of them just assumed I was someone’s wife or just worked for the company,” Sara said.
According to Sara, the biggest challenge has been with customers. Oftentimes they direct their questions to a man standing at Sara’s booth, despite Sara being the one in charge and answering the questions. Though it’s a tough pill to swallow, she has learned to ignore it and keep talking.
Theresa said that they’ve had men question the choice to use Sara and Theresa as models when in reality they aren’t models at all. They built the truck!
“I'm sure no one makes a comment about what the guy looks like when he builds a badass truck,” Theresa pondered.
Ryan Copsey, the owner of a highly modified F350, is one of many women who receive the “Daddy’s money” comments.
“It’s really challenging,” Ryan admitted. “You go places where you meet the guys who are so supportive and they want to help you learn and grow and they’re there for you for questions, but then you also have the people—the haters—who think because I’m a female I can’t do it like the guys.”
Erin Millage, the owner of a 2020 RAM 2500 with a 6.7L Cummins turbo engine, walked into a dealership to pick up a part and immediately was asked if her diesel is her husband’s truck.
It doesn’t take a math wiz to figure out that if half the population is women, and if that population isn’t made to feel welcome, we’re really kicking ourselves as an industry. You don’t need a marketing degree to figure out that’s bad business. It’s one thing to avoid making hurtful comments; it’s another to be actively supportive.
“Moving forward we just need to remember that we are no different than anyone else out there,” Sara concluded. “We just keep encouraging men and women to go out and do your dreams. Don’t let stereotypes keep you from doing something. Join these groups and/or volunteer to be apart of them to help make the difference that you believe needs to happen. And men, help be a mentor to these women. That will have the biggest impact.”
SEMA Businesswomen’s Network
Women In Automotive