What women really want from a car

Man has long pondered the conundrum of what women really want. So it’s hardly astonishing that when it comes to knowing what the gentler sex wants from a car, they haven’t always got it right.

50 or 60 years ago, the number of women drivers wasn’t nearly as significant as it is today. Not only are there far more women drivers and owners, but they also have a big say in the decision when a new family car is considered.

Back in the early 1980s, Volkswagen South Africa had one of the first all-women motoring launches for the female press. “Sixty percent of the drivers on the roads at any one time are women,” VW said at the time.

Be they moms doing the lift club, out shopping, getting to work and back, running children to dentist, doctor, extra-mural appointments, or just meandering round the block to visit a friend, they make up a huge proportion of drivers on our roads.

And increasingly, as they’ve climbed their way up corporate ladders and assumed a greater role in the workplace, they’ve beefed up the numbers of females buying cars.

In Judith E. Nichols’ book, Understanding the Increasing Affluence of Women, she writes that in most US households, women bring in half or more of the income and also control about 80% of household spending, including new car purchases.

“Women want the same things as men, but they want more,” said Ford USA’s Sheryl Connelly, the company’s chief marketing office manager for global trends. “For example, they want performance, efficient packaging and an attractive design, but they also want safety and more features. We are taking that into consideration in all of our new products.”

Step back four or five decades, and consider how little thought was put into a female’s perspective when it came to designing cars. The cliché about snapping expensive French manicured fingernails while driving isn’t just a cliché: badly positioned windscreen wiper stalks, carelessly placed bonnet openers, tyre-puncture repair kits … all of which could cause manicure casualties.

“I want a car that looks good, performs well, can accommodate me and my husband, and two children in car seats, along with our weekend luggage,” said Laura Myers, a hectically busy saleswoman and mother in Durban.

“Far more important than a rev counter is an efficient air-conditioning system, child locks, and leather seats that wipe clean. Most important of all are the safety features. I need to know my family will be protected as much as possible in the event of an accident.” And, she added, “I’d be hugely annoyed if I were to break a nail while opening the bonnet!”

Michael Albano of GM’s global design group said on the CNN Living website that 85% of all vehicle sales decisions were influenced by women, with women buying 45% of all vehicles. So when it comes to car interiors, for instance, GM pays particular attention to details in trim, fabric, colours and compartments, shapes and positioning of controls.

“Storage is also a big deal to women buyers whether it’s room for groceries, handbags, kids’ toys, foldable seats or built-in car booster seats,” he added.

As for exteriors, “women want great designs, but they also don’t want to compromise on safety and efficiency”, he noted. “So we pay particular attention to proportions and stance, including the wheel-to-body relationship.”

Johannesburg’s Lorraine Forbes has always opted for reliable brands, because of safety and efficiency, as “that’s very important to me.” Apart from that, I love soul in a car: the interior has to appeal to my senses, yet practicality must be in the mix, too. And with teenage children, boot space is of huge importance, as well as leg room for gangling boys.”

Mother-of-one Sumayia Khan, an accountant from Durban, said looks were a priority in her choice of car, but she also required top-notch safety features, both active and passive. “Gizmos aren’t a necessity. Cup holders, for instance: it’s not the quantity but the positioning of them that is critical. I’m sure many of these were designed by men, because they are so often impractically placed.”

One blogger, known just as BlogHer, wrote: “Comfort is important. I like adjustable seats. We aren’t all built the same and it’s nice to be able to tilt and adjust the seats as needed. I hate that it’s a premium feature in a car. Just because we aren’t independently wealthy doesn’t mean we should have to suffer with uncomfortable seats. Also, this is a little thing, but I want headrests that are pony-tail friendly. I like the ones with holes in them myself, but basically I want to be able to lean my head back!”

Amen to that! Headrests are the bane of most women’s lives, because they are not designed for pony-tails or indeed, many women’s hairstyles.

So are we any closer to knowing what women want from a vehicle? According to Volvo research, it’s fairly simple: we want a car that has plenty of storage, is easy to park, has good visibility, is easy to get in and out of, can be personalised and requires minimal maintenance.

But don’t forget the comfort, the easy-to-clean upholstery, the efficient aircon system, the leg room for teenagers, the good looks and, of course, the soul!