Along with design, a car’s safety and environmental friendliness are important to women
Customised cars no longer a male domain
"In Europe about half of all drivers are of the female sex, and half of all new cars are bought by female customers," wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1995 in its report on the workshop for women designers entitled, Women and The Car – No Love Affair? "This is in glaring disproportion to the percentage of women employed in the automotive industry, particularly in the design departments responsible for the form and function of the final product."
By way of explanation, the report quotes Mercedes-Benz designer Cathryn Espinosa, who attributes this disparity to the fact that the key to good design is joy in being a car designer, and not a fanatic love of the final product. She feels that this view, widespread among male colleagues, possibly deters young women from choosing the profession. If female influence on future car generations is to be increased, said Espinosa, there has to be a coordinated awakening of interest in the broad programme of transport design in schools and the media.
Women's love for design is nevertheless nothing new. Back in 1925, artist Sonia Delaunay-Terk and some of her female colleagues came up with design ideas for the car. They painted the metal exterior of a car in the colours and patterns of their then highly popular ‘simultaneous’ clothes and fabrics – in blue, red and green squares. The idea of bodywork to match clothing was later taken up by the Bauhaus constructivists.
Not that long ago Mercedes-Benz, too, hit upon the idea of bringing together the fashion world and cars. During Milan fashion week the Stuttgart car brand presented the Mercedes-Benz CLK designo by Giorgio Armani, as it was officially called, which was later offered for sale in a limited series of 100 units. The Mercedes-Benz CLK was equipped by couturier Giorgio Armani, with the vigorous support of the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio in Como, directed at the time by a woman.
Women make natural car buyers
Women as consumers have become a crucial economic factor for the automobile industry in recent years. "In car marketing women used to be regarded as a silent target group that did not specifically have to be taken into account in model development and brand communication," wrote the advertising journal Horizont in 2004. "In view of the persisting downturn in car manufacturers' sales, this paradigm has increasingly begun to crumble."
In fact the industry had already discovered car-buying women a few years earlier: "More women are buying cars themselves," was the headline of a 1999 article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to introduce the eighth joint "Women and the Car" campaign organised by the German motor vehicle associations. "But they have different criteria. When buying a car, women pay attention to practical things; men to prestige."
According to the article, by the late 20th century women were buying almost 16 per cent of new cars in Germany. In 1998 alone, 600,000 German women drivers had bought a car of their own. By 2002, slightly less than a third of all newly registered cars had female owners. Association representatives maintained that the reasons for this growing mobility were the gainful employment and thus financial independence of many women and the growing number of single households. The newspaper readers also learned that the „favourite colour for women when buying a car" was blue, followed by silver grey, black and red, and that by the end of the 20th century women saw environmental friendliness and safety as important criteria when deciding on a car.
If the media is to be believed, this gender difference still manifests itself today particularly in the purchase of a car: "Women pay special attention to interior design and interior materials, to stowage space and trays, and not least of all to the price. Men, on the other hand, focus on engineering, safety, resale value and flexibility," the advertising journal Horizont told us in 2008. "It pays for industry to make note of the differences. Women are one of the auto industry’s most important target groups, because in Germany half of women aged 65 and older have a driving licence, and in the under 40 age bracket the figure is 90 percent. Where learner drivers are concerned, there is now practically no difference any longer: the number of licence holders under the age of 20 is roughly evenly distributed between women and men."
Not just rational
As always, however, surveys show an approximate picture, without ever really reflecting in detail the variety of opinions within the surveyed group. For instance, businesswoman Regina Seidel, President of the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (VdU), values her car as a constant, reliable companion for business trips, and attached less importance to the selection criteria ascribed to women by advertising experts: "For her, the representative saloon is the ideal company car," she says of her Mercedes-Benz SL 350 in the book Damenwahl. "I love my car because it gets me where I'm going safely. Without a car I feel incomplete. It accompanies me wherever I go. I never travel by public transport."
This businesswoman is above all technically well versed: "When I buy a car I first look under the bonnet and at the chassis number. A girlfriend of mine, for example, is different. She gets excited about a colour or a stylish design. To me that is not so important. When I buy a new car, I expect to get the latest in engineering. I want the most innovative car!"
Women drivers, today as in the past, are not quite as boring and sensible as one might think. In 2000, for example, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that customising is not by any means purely a male domain. "A crisp sports suspension, a turbocharged engine with a throaty, sporty sound, wide tyres on gleaming light-alloy wheels – normally if a souped-up car like this whips around the corner there simply has to be a man at the wheel. Right – in principle – but not necessarily so. Because women drivers have now also taken to customising their wheels to suit their taste. And their number is increasing."
And so for a while now, the spotlight has turned to women who are not just fascinated by practical things or looks, but simply think cars are great. "The fascination I hold for the Silver Arrows is unbroken ever since I studied car design at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles," says fashion designer Jette Joop, for example. "There is hardly any other means of transport so nearly design perfect as the McLaren M6B. It is a metal witness to a time when racing drivers designed and bravely tested their cars themselves."
Singer Marla Glen, too, sees her car as an expression of her attitude towards life and not simply as a means of transport: "Her car, a white Mercedes-Benz 600, is as much a part of Marla Glen as her pinstripe suit, slouch hat and cigar. … The Mercedes-Benz 600 was once owned by celebrities such as John Lennon, George Harrison and Mary Wilson of the Supremes. … If you ask the musician why she loves this old car, she cynically replies: 'Because I’m an old motherfucker!' But then she reveals that it's mainly the timeless character of the car that impresses her."
So those who think modern women see the car mainly as practical family transport is making a big mistake. Emancipation has long since arrived in the area of so-called irrational cars. Stern magazine wrote about, "women's new appetite for horsepower", and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commenting on the appearance of the women's magazine Brigitte at the 2007 Frankfurt International Motor Show, doubted whether it made any sense "to bring women (even) closer to the automobile by setting up 'make-up lounges' at motor shows." There really is not much to add to this conclusion of the motor journalists, as: "Women and cars should long since have been accepted as a natural combination."