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Kelly Dahle remembers leaving her workplace one day at the same time of day as the company’s CEO exited the office doors. When they arrived at her car, the CEO was startled.

“Great car! But why do you need a BMW?” he asked.

Dahle didn’t respond but she could have told her boss to get used to it. Women are buying more luxury vehicles than ever before, thanks to growing earnings, better marketing and a richer mix of products designed to appeal to them.

In the U.S., 41 percent of luxury vehicles sold so far this year were bought by women, up from 37 percent five years ago, according to car shopping site Edmunds.com.

Historically, women were considered the practical car shoppers. They needed family haulers and didn’t want to shell out extra cash for flashy, powerful Mercedes sedans or Porsche sports cars.

But the luxury market has changed. In 1998, Lexus introduced the midsize RX SUV and marketed it specifically to women, emphasizing its reliability, spaciousness and soft, quiet ride. Since then, sales of small and midsize luxury SUVs have exploded, with even die-hard car makers like Maserati, Porsche and Jaguar joining the fray.

Luxury SUVs now outsell luxury cars, thanks in large part to women, who like their space, safety and taller ride height.

Ford Motor Co.’s luxury Lincoln brand, which recently introduced its small MKC and midsize MKX SUVs, says sales to female buyers have surged 13 percent so far this year.

Lexus remains the market leader, with 47.5 percent of its sales going to women so far this year, Edmunds says. Acura, Volvo, Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz round out the top five.

Dahle, who lives in Downers Grove, Illinois, recently bought her first new BMW after decades of driving used ones. Mostly, she said, she wants a BMW because of its solid, safe feel.

“I trust it if I need to make a sharp turn,” she said.

Ian Beavis, a marketing expert and chief strategy officer at the vehicle testing and consulting firm AMCI, says luxury car makers are increasingly advertising during television programs that appeal to women. Even though the ads may feature men, such as Lincoln’s quirky ads starring Matthew McConaughey, they show things that interest women, like luxurious, quiet interiors and safety features.

Beavis said luxury brands also are hosting fashion shows, art exhibits and other things that help them interact with women.

“No one buys a luxury car for a rational reason,” Beavis said.

“You really have to make sure you reach people at an emotional level.”

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