“I was really nervous when my dad decided to put me in our BMW shop,” recalled Kelly Suntrup Stumpe, also known as The Car Mom. “I was 22 years old; She had never sold a car, and yet now I sell $80,000 5 Series cars to people triple or twice my age.”
An uphill battle
Stumpe, a St. Louis native and founder of car mom, stands at a critical intersection between the auto business and women. Today, there is a significant cultural movement to recognize women in the automotive industry (and many other industries) for their contributions. Similarly, there is more recognition today that women are the main car-buying demographic. On the industry side, Stumpe can inspire women who want to pursue an automotive career. On the consumer side, her skills and personality reduce the reservations people, especially women, have about setting foot in a dealership.
From an industry perspective, the road is still undeniably rocky for women in the auto industry. According automotive news and Deloitte Research, women make up just 27 percent of the U.S. auto manufacturing workforce in an October 2018 survey conducted by both organizations called women behind the wheel, only one percent said the auto industry was the best for women. Only 14 percent said they would encourage women in their family and friends to pursue an automotive career. Meanwhile, 74 percent of the women surveyed said they have different standards of performance compared to their male colleagues.
“Being a woman, being young and being the owner’s daughter meant having all these extra expectations of me when I started selling cars,” Stumpe said. “I felt like they tested me a lot, especially in the beginning.”
The added expectations and increased pressure came as Stumpe is now the third generation of the St. Louis, Missouri-based Suntrup Automotive Group family. “My grandfather and his brother started in 1957, and then my dad and his brother really turned it into a multi-franchise organization,” he explained. “When I first got into the car business in 2016, everyone thought I would know a lot about it because I had grown up in it. I didn’t really know much about car buying because I had never seen the process actually happen.”
walking the walk
After graduating from William Woods University with a degree in Equestrian Science, he returned to the family business and, in particular, to the BMW franchise. Though it might not have seemed to outsiders, the dealership was a different world to Stumpe. His learning curve spanned two uniquely different but equally important and challenging areas. One was learning the daily operations and inner workings of the dealership, from sales and service to parts and accessories. The second was getting acclimated to the BMW product line, a tall order for any automotive professional, let alone someone new to the business.
Luxury brands like BMW differ in that they have extensive lineups, many complex technological features, and some of the most advanced engineering regarding vehicle platforms and powertrains. BMW terminology can be particularly overwhelming, especially when first seen. Phrases and descriptors such as “TwinPower turbocharging technology”, “VALVETRONIC fully variable valve timing” and “double VANOS variable camshaft timing” are common BMW jargon. Add to that BMW’s M lineup, where there are numerous options and packages, and it presents another challenge entirely. In short, BMW is not an easy product line to learn.
“People would come very well researched, some with their leases even calculated by hand. I quickly learned that BMW buyers are experienced buyers,” recalled Stumpe. “So I forced myself to learn everything about BMWs and then everything about the car buying process. I took every opportunity I could to learn.”
Car and chicken nugget deals
As Stumpe found his footing, he began to take note of the deficiencies in the sales process. One of the most significant is how frustrating car shopping can be, especially for women. While Stumpe was a welcome face to car buyers in St. Louis, she began to think of ways to expand what she saw to a broader audience. Stumpe wanted to bridge the gap between dealers and consumers while retaining his identity as a real person with children and a family.
“The more I talked about cars, the more I shared my family life,” Stumpe said. “I am very realistic; My house is messy and my kids sometimes have chicken nuggets for dinner, but I’m doing the best I can. People resonated with that, especially women. So I set out to share more about my entrepreneurial journey, but that journey also involves my family.”
the car mom
The culmination of all this inspired Stumpe to launch the car mom platform in early 2020, just as the COVID-19 lockdowns were starting to roll out across the country. Stumpe was pregnant with her daughter Hattie by her at the time, while her son George was only nine months old.
“I didn’t even feel comfortable taking my nine-month-old baby to the supermarket; How are women supposed to get their young children to car dealerships? Stumpe continued. “These poor women, or these poor families, are being forced to take their children to a dealership in a pandemic, give a vendor their license, meet the manager, be pressured into renting, all to discover that their strollers and seats They really don’t fit in that SUV the way they thought.”
Stumpe started running with the car mom, who has logged over 400,000 followers on Instagram as of this writing. “I thought, what if I could give moms a first look at a new vehicle and if I could save them four or five hours at the dealership,” she said. “That’s something I’d like to do.”
As a working mom, Stumpe puts her focus and energy into real world reviews and car buying tips. Her YouTube channel features comprehensive overviews of the latest vehicles, including electric vehicles, hybrids, and three-row SUVs. Stumpe also has videos covering extended service contracts and the latest in-vehicle tech features. We also see Stumpe’s humor and grace in videos like A day in the life of car momwhere he reveals his love for coffee, chocolate and Diet Coke (source of Diet Coke).
“As I take these first looks at different vehicles, I always want to keep the women and families entertained and just speak their language,” Stumpe said. “I’m very passionate about the family aspect, and in many ways I strive to be the average person’s car critic.”
The carpool podcast
In addition to his Instagram page and YouTube channel, Stumpe hosts The carpool podcast with her business partner and sister, Lizz Suntrup. Behind the microphones, the duo goes beyond the idea of a standard automotive podcast to offer working moms a mental break. “In each episode, we’ll talk a bit about the auto industry, but mostly we take listeners as we navigate marriage, motherhood, and life as sisters, businesswomen, and best friends,” Stumpe said.
Lasting Impact of The Car Mom
As an automotive platform, the car mom is relatively new, but Stumpe’s rapidly growing fan base and following proves that his distinctive style and signature are much needed. Historically, the auto industry has been a male-driven business that is not easily accessible to women, but that is changing today. Now more women are in executive positions and manufacturers have a better understanding of the influence women have in the car buying process.
As The Car Mom, Stumpe is in a unique (if not extraordinary) position to serve both sides of this critical equation. More like her are needed. And that’s why I admire her work.
“Moms resonate with me, they see what I’m doing, and I look forward to bringing that to the rest of the automotive world,” Stumpe said. “That is a goal that I have now, and I would like to continue to attract the attention of the automotive world.”
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He is a member of the board of directors of the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, a former president of the Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal fan of the Detroit Lions.