When I first saw one of the “new” Volkswagen Beetles, back in 1997, the first thing I noticed was the cutesy little flower vase on the dashboard. And I thought: “Who is this car for? Barbara Cartland?”
Fast-forward to today and the motor industry is still struggling with the fact that women are now driving without a man walking 50 paces in front waving a flag.
Dr Andy Palmer, executive vice-president of Nissan, recently expressed his concerns about women and their cars. He said: “Globally, 50 per cent of women are dissatisfied with their car. And a huge 74 per cent of women feel misunderstood by automakers …if a car company does not have female engineers, that is a competitive weakness. We need fewer hairdressing courses and more job creation based around those from a technology and mathematical background.”
Given that 46.3 per cent of UK drivers are women, designers have good reason to consider them. Dr Palmer’s heart is certainly in the right place, but is his brain? I can’t quite get to grips with the idea that women go to college thinking: “Hmm … hairdressing or engineering? I can’t decide …” and then if you take away the hairdressing option, they’ll all go: “OK, engineering it is, then.”
I’ve never felt that my cars were too butch. Perhaps this is because I’ve always primarily viewed them as instruments to get me from A to B and which are fuelled by petrol, not oestrogen.
My favourite car ever was my British Racing Green Mini Cooper. It didn’t bother me that it was designed by men, for men. It suited me perfectly, so it makes me cringe to think that flower vases might soon appear on the dashboards of otherwise perfectly acceptable unisex cars in attempt to make them more “female-friendly”.
Other motor manufacturers are also addressing the “problems” women have with male-orientated motors. I was amazed to discover that Ford even has a women’s product panel, and even more amazed that it is currently grappling with vital issues like how to help a laydee avoid scratching her car door handle with the diamond from her engagement ring; the optimum distance from pedal to steering wheel when said laydee has high heels on; and ease of entry into the car when she’s wearing a very tight skirt.
Seriously? Diamond rings? High heels? Tight skirts? Who is Ford designing cars for? Elizabeth Taylor? Believe me, the modern woman needs very little in the way of help to drive a car. Statistically, she’s safer than her male counterparts so, basically, all she needs is protection in case she encounters a reckless driver, reliability and economy – just like blokes do, in fact.
By offering more space for buggies, or other baby-friendly features, motor manufacturers seem to think they’re helping women out, but men have kids, too, don’t they? Why do we need to separate the sexes in order to make better cars?
However, it seems that the motor industry is dead-set on patronising women, so to help them out, I have a few sexist suggestions. First of all, laydee cars are always pink, or lipstick red (if you don’t believe me, ask Bentley, which is specifically marketing these colours to Chinese women). As far as exterior add-ons are concerned, a laydee needs all-round bumpers – parking is so difficult with two X chromosomes – and false eyelashes on the headlamps. Inside, a flower vase (of course), a hairdryer built into the air-conditioning, a drop-down ironing board in the boot, and fluffy mats so she doesn’t scratch the back of her heels.
Then, because she either can’t read a map, or the sat-nav man sounds mean and judgmental, the laydee driver has chick-nav, which sounds like this: “Turn right at the next stop sign. Or, turn left, because you’re only ten minutes from H&M and there’s a sale on! Go on, you won’t be that late getting home. You’re worth it! Anyway, at the roundabout, take the fourth exit … Ooh and did you see those photos of Myleene Klass in Heat? Talk about cellulite …”
I don’t believe women drivers are any different from men. Besides, the motor industry has already invented a car to help people who can’t really drive and prefer to spend their time thinking about fluffy things. It’s called an automatic.