Will Cars of the Future be Designed for Women Only? – Forbes

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2014

When Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan at the end of July 2014 that women’s increasing influence on the automotive industry was one of the four major trends shaping the global car business, the other auto makers probably felt he had revealed their secret, as the whole industry is pointing to women.

My May blog – “Women in Cars: Overtaking Men on the Fast Lane” – highlighted the fact that there are more women with driving licences in the U.S. today than men, across all age groups, and in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom. The parity is expected to happen within the next two to four years steering car companies to focus on women as a prime customer. Interestingly, over the last few months, strong evidence has emerged that car companies are now incorporating this trend to develop new vehicles, customized vehicle technologies, and sales solutions just for women.

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So it seems the battle ground has been drawn, and as auto makers are not ones to miss a bloodthirsty fight over a consumer segment, they have started revving their engines. The war over women has been raging for some time within the categories women have a significant presence – city cars and cross-over SUVs. However, “women” is not one consumer group that can be gratified with an SUV. Women are as diverse and complex as the male side of the auto buying market, and the female consumer of the future will dominate across all segments.

There are rumours in the industry that following on Porsche Porsche’s footsteps, another German vehicle manufacturer (OEM) is going as far as launching a vehicle designed for women. Porsche took a bold step by positioning its Porsche Macan, the smaller twin brother (or sister perhaps) of the Cayenne, towards women. This of course was in response to the Land Rover Evoque, which, somewhat thanks to Victoria Beckham’s design and endorsement, is driven more by women than men.

In the past, the “cars for women” concept has been unsuccessful as they have simply been pink – think Mary Kay Mary Kay car pink. But, the reality is, by optimizing key vehicle model designs for women, the OEMs win both genders. FIAT say their 500 is designed to “move the emotional soul” inside a customer. One might assume this is aimed toward and designed for women as women have a tendency to purchase on more of an emotional level. However, FIAT has retained both genders through customization. Starting from the two basic unisex 500 models (Pop and Pop Star), they then brought in Lounge and Cult (primarliy for women), and Sport and GQ (primarily for men). Other popular models with both genders like the BMW MINI, Renault Renault Twingo and Citroen C1 have integrated features such as increased wheel base, shortened overhangs, touchscreens, and leather and woven materials in their 2014 models. Men certainly aren’t complaining, and women are buying more of them.

So what do women really want from their cars? Frost & Sullivan research shows that women demand intuitive vehicle controls, automatic assist features, integrated technology and a quiet, comfortable and plush cabin. It could be that the devastating realization we’ve all had that nice trim and comfort costs you a pretty penny in extras may push dealers to make these features standard, in order to win the female customer. The innovation in design for women will broaden the concept of personalization in the future.

The 2014 Mercedes S Class developers say they have designed their cabin around the concept of “energizing fitness” and feature a host of options including a perfume atomizer, ionising air system and strictly no plastic. The new Porsche Macan – aimed at women – has almost endless customization options. No wonder Ford’s automatic boot opener ad portraying a woman dangling her stilettos was such a success – it even translated into high sales of the Ford Kuga (and BMW copying the feature and ad).

It is not just the cars and the features that are now the source of car companies’ attention. The battleground is shifting to car dealerships. Nissan has come out as the first car company that plans to revamp 300 of their dealerships in Japan tailoring to women. Called the “Ladies First” project, Nissan has opened a pilot dealership in the Tokyo suburb of Fuchu. This dealership is managed by women, manned by women, and aims to make the shopping experience more welcoming and seamless.  The intent is to appeal to and win over females using other car brands and to those new to the car buying process.

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The dealerships are modern with a serene atmosphere and are equipped with a team of female concierges providing child care during appointments and female mechanics who avoid the use of unnecessary auto jargon to explain the value-add of a vehicle in plain English (Japanese). Ghosn wants a minimum of 50 percent of sales and retail teams globally to be women. He says 80 percent of women going to a car dealer want to have a woman sales person, whilst men are 50/50. So – aspire to do what females want (and win the men too). As the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life.” I think Nissan is on to something here.

Whereas efforts towards workforce diversity will take some years to come to fruition, in the meantime, Ghosn has established a system called “fJury” (female jury), where a panel of women provide feedback and approve every stage of any vehicle design process.

BMW has been forced to look at their long and largely successful “ultimate driving machine” marketing slogan. They realized it worked with piston heads, but something far more sophisticated was needed to capture a new female consumer. Thus, the “Joy” campaign was born. Going from taglines such as “Fasterpiece” to “Joy is Maternal” consequently brings a different feel to the brand.

Diversity is a global goal, but the auto industry is seeking to win female talent at all levels as a key factor to success. Ghosn and the Nissan Renault Alliance have been quietly building the most diverse regional business unit of any automaker globally in Brazil. This is not just because it’s the right thing to do but because they clearly believe they can win a whole emerging market this way and intend to do the same in Russia and China.

In China, over 50 percent of cars purchased in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities are women; a lot of them are first time buyers with new earning power and are securing their independence via buying a vehicle. Major auto makers are putting women at the head of vehicle design and roll out in these key future markets. Lamborghini’s trim and colour assembly team is 75 percent female, and BMW has an all-female team of engineers working on product development for the BMWi user interface.

For the auto industry the discerning, often brand agnostic, female consumer has thrown the innovation arms race wide open. The question now is will they develop and launch only vehicles designed for women, or will they customize cars for both sexes. I trust the former.

This article was written with contribution from Olivia Price Walker, Senior Consultant and author of Frost & Sullivan’s “Women in Cars; Changing Auto Industry Dynamics,” to be published October 2014.   


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