Being a person who likes cars, who happens to be a female, I still don’t consider myself to be a “car girl”, actually the term downright annoys me. So when I read something that specifically points out the role of the woman in the auto industry or enthusiasts fields, I tend not to pay attention — although, there is one thing I can agree with, a feminine influence in the auto design industry would benefit both the auto companies and the drivers, stick with me…
For many years, I worked at a company that was full of Mustang enthusiasts, so being a Pontiac enthusiast, you can imagine the heated “debates” (debates would insinuate that it was classy and civil, so I use that word loosely) we had in the office.
The one point I could never argue with is that the demise of the Camaro (prior to the redesign) and Firebird after the 2002 production models was somewhat of a self-inflicted wound for GM. My Mustang loving friends, who were also auto researchers, pointed out that women just didn’t really drive those cars.
After further research, I learned they were right. Many women own Mustangs, and those aren’t necessarily auto-enthusiasts either. There were very few female users on popular forums I visit and I don’t honestly believe it’s a total lack of interest — it’s more than that, they just seemed to feel isolated by the entire industry.
Subtle things kept women from liking my favorite cars. They complained about the pedals being too close to the floor, a lack of seat adjustments, a turning radius that makes parking challenging, and other things drivers of a smaller stature would struggle with.
Of course this was irritating to think about at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really was the designer’s fault for letting these issues impact sales of certain sports cars. I really gave it some thought, and I don’t think someone any shorter than myself could drive my car, the clutch pedal is very far inset and the dash is huge — I can’t seem to think of how someone less that 5’ 5” would negotiate that, and the average American woman is around 5’ 4”, with the average American man standing at 5’ 10”.
In my (slightly) older years, I’ve come to accept that not everyone who buys a car does so for the reasons I am interested in with particular cars. To me, power and acceleration is almost all that matters — but I now respect that there’s more to a vehicle than that, so it’s okay to complain that mirror/seat height make driving more difficult for lady drivers.
I think the obvious solution is for auto makers to invest more than they are now in luring in female auto designers. It’s hard to imagine a car being made by a woman that would be so uncomfortable for female drivers and carry so many complaints from the gender.
Perhaps if a female designer had sat inside a 2002 Trans Am and noticed that a shorter driver has to sit uncomfortably close to the airbag loaded steering wheel to reach the clutch pedal, they’d make a pedal that extended at a different angle. Some of these things could change for people with a smaller stature and most others wouldn’t notice.
A great example of this is how Helen Emsley headed a team that designed the interior of the 2014 Corvette — I don’t know one person who wouldn’t drive the new Corvette, given the chance. It appeals to the female driver, but I haven’t heard any complaints from my male auto enthusiast friends about the car looking “too girly”.
There is such a thing as balance, and I think in the auto world, that should probably start in the design room if it’s ever going to make it to the showroom floor.
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