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adbuzz 4colorLong seen as a boy’s club making ‘toys for boys’, the automobile industry’s decisions have been, more often than not, influenced by the dynamics of the Y chromosome. That looks set to change, with women now stepping into many key roles in that bastion of testosterone. Automotive design is a key area where women have made their presence felt in recent years. Over 25% of the global design workforce of leading automakers such as BMW and GM, is now female. Volvo recently unveiled its YCC Concept Car, which was made by an all-female design team.

While YCC may be an extreme example, more and more women are taking ownership of mainstream automobile designs. The new Cadillac XTS Platinum (Christine Park) and the Accura ZDX (Michelle Christensen) have been designed by the companies’ first respective lead female designers. BMW in 2008, launched their iconic Z4 roadster, designed by the duo of Nadya Amout and Juliane Blasi.

Although the share of women in the automobile industry workforce has grown incrementally, it is still about 20% (up from six percent a generation ago). Research commissioned by Ford Motors estimates that 85% of the car acquisition decisions are now influenced by women, particularly in the highly profitable compact and family car segments.

While developing a car solely targeted at women is not feasible (too select a niche internationally with poor sales prospects, particularly in the lucrative Middle East market), it is in the industry’s interest to cater to the tastes of women as well.

Industry insiders believe that as buyers, men tend to put more weight on dynamics like technology, reliability and engineering; whereas women tend to appreciate functionality, aesthetics and economics, all of which are now staples for any successful automobile design. It is therefore more likely that mixed gender design teams will continue to thrive in the auto industry in the days ahead.

– Tariq Ziad Khan
First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 2, 2014.