Donâ€™t call them cute.
In the competitive and macho world of car design attempts to lure women into the passenger seat have become remarkably subtle â€” nothing obvious, nothing patently sexist or obviously female, say the experts.
Itâ€™s a lesson the automotive industry learned over the decades. Once a vehicle is branded the â€œchick carâ€ male consumers walk away faster than boys from a Beaches soundtrack.
Design innovations aimed at attracting women are often played down. For example, the centre consol on the new gender-neutral, â€œOntario-builtâ€ 2010 Chevy Equinox is commodious enough for a laptop, the sales rep might suggest â€” or even a purse.
The tailgate is adjustable for people who may be vertically challenged â€” and itâ€™s true, many women are shorter than men.
Across the board, colours and materials should appeal to both sexes.
But some innovations clearly address womenâ€™s needs. â€œThe tilt of the accelerator and brake pedals is set to accommodate high heels,â€ says Dustin Woods, a spokesperson for General Motors in Mississauga. Even the back up camera display in the rear-view mirror assists drivers who may have trouble parallel parking, he says.
Woods confirms car designers have been struggling for years to make cars more female friendly without screaming â€œcute.â€
Itâ€™s crucial considering women are now buying 50 per cent of new cars, and influencing many of the purchases made by men.
Apart from vehicle design automotive companies have attempted to increase their female sales staffs and technical advice personnel. They research ways to make dealerships more female friendly and develop sales promotions that capture the attention of women.
In 2004, Volvo developed a team who tried just that. They struggled with issues like climbing out of sporty cars in short skirts or clamouring into a SUV in a long skirt, according to a 2006 Automotive News article.
Itâ€™s impossible to discuss the efforts without sounding sexist â€” as if only women are concerned with safety, the environment and affordability, as if only women need space for grocery bags and are concerned about the safety of their children.
The much sited example of a gender play fumble was the mid 1950s Dodge La Femme â€“ a girl-ified version of the 1955 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer done up to the nines in pink. Matching accessories included a purse, umbrella and raincoat. Sales were abysmal with fewer than 1,000 sold.
In 2002, 100 male GM employees wore plastic bag skirts and stilettos, long fake fingernails carried a purse and a baby doll to feel first hand how most women respond to the latest generation of full-sized SUVs. The goal was to determine ways to make the vehicles more manageable â€” from a womanâ€™s perspective.
The trick for modern car manufacturers is to incorporate design elements that appeal to women and men.
The 2010 Kia Soul was named Small Car of the Year by FAMA Magazine during an award ceremony at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Hispanic womenâ€™s magazine lauded the carâ€™s safety features and exciting design elements.
Shelley Tavener, public relations manager for Kia Canada says sales of the Kia Soul are only slightly higher for women. â€œIt has tremendous appeal for female automobile journalists but concrete data shows men are just as interested,â€ she says.
Kia Soul designer Peter Schreyer, who also designed the Audi TT and the new Volkswagen Beatle, never intended to design a car for women, she explains. Rather, he pursued â€œincredible design that had an emotional appeal. He wanted a car that resonated with people. You want to be in that car whether youâ€™re a man or a woman.â€