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COLUMN: Whose car is it anyway?

2008-11-12 08:13

Morgan Naidu

Women's influence in the cars we drive extends way beyond matching the interior and exterior colours... Morgan Naidu examines.

Oh, the times they are a changing. Women, it seems, are the new men!

Of course, it's not really breaking news that women are fuelling the car market worldwide (80-billion US dollars, according to an American survey).

In fact, women are not just buying new cars – more than 50% in some markets – but they are also making the decisions when it comes to the family set of wheels.

Leading survey group Synovate confirmed that even in the South African car market women are no longer content just wearing the pants, they want the undies and filling too.

Glory days - gone!

Women, it seems, have broken out the car closet and are demanding things like safety, quality, value and even better options.

Us speed-obsessed okes are in danger of becoming obsolete as the fairer sex make the critical decisions on cars.

This is a far cry from the yesteryear’s glorious automobiles, when big Buicks and plucky Fiats, positively playful Triumph Spitfires, Sunbeams and Hudsons all had their paint scratched by a bevy of beautiful women adorning them for the ad posters.

From the straw blondes hanging on to Volvos to the sultry Italian beauties of the 60s and 70s, women played an important role in showing off or enhancing the curvaceous features of the respective automobiles.

Nowadays, it’s a completely different story and women’s opinions and input on a variety of car matters are being actively sought before integrated into car design.

Some years ago Land Rover sought out the advice of women in the design and practicality of future Landy products.

The feedback from the ladies resulted in Land Rover reworking the placement of fluid reservoir dipsticks that needed regular checking to avoid having to lean in against a dirty vehicle.

Colour coding of things that needed checking by driver-owners was another result while we can only assume that it was the more well-endowed ladies who campaigned for a tweak of the angles of dipsticks and such.

Who's in charge?

Of course, it's not just the plain and mundane that women are preoccupied with in motor cars.

They don’t only influence exterior colours, child seats and storage pockets either.

In an industry dominated worldwide by men, Volkswagen group had a delightful woman in charge of product brand communications named Dr Marlena Pickles, while BMW’s head of drivetrain development for the last generation 5-Series was a hard-as-nails Italian-German woman with a penchant for fast cars.

In the USA, General Motors’s chief engineer for the fabulous CTS Liz Pilibosian maintains that a car good enough to please a woman would please anyone.

CTS, in fact, has a strong female influence and input in areas such as powertrain development, certain electric systems and design cues both in and outside the car.

With the launch of its Megane a few years ago, French carmaker Renault also made much of the fact that the fairer sex had opined on such matters as interior design and texture – so much so that every single part of the interior that would need to be touched regularly by the driver was in fact given texture upgrades to improve the quality and feel of the part.

Mercedes Benz boasted its “airscarf” that blows out hot or cool air as needed to the necks of the occupants in the SLK when the roof is down.

And, it had to have been a woman who helped develop Volvo’s safety detection system which senses when a driver has been drinking and is over the legal limit and immediately refuses to start the car.

In the future

Of course, all of this begs the question: Where to from here?

Are we likely to see more and more cars and international show concepts getting in touch with their feminine sides?

Will foot pedals be reworked to allow for a little stiletto heel-and-toe?

Perhaps an emergency compact and powder make-up kit just next to the first-aid bag?

How about cars with voice activation tags that use the actual voice pre-recording of the woman in your life?

Women are studious when it comes to car choice, say many manufacturers. In fact, in evidence borne out by Synovate, women are found to be more critical, ultra-cautious and rigorously demanding of elements such as good value for money, good resale potential and improved safety and service.

In short, the women tend to ask the questions that male drivers and owners never bother with.

It's only a matter of time before a clever manufacturer unveils a car exclusively for women.

Once we guys get over it, we’ll start to realise that women are no longer just being draped over motor cars in adverts and at motor shows.

Their influence in every aspect, from technical and mechanical to interior and exterior aesthetics, has been more significant that we would care to acknowledge. It may be a man’s world, but women hold the keys – literally.



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