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What women really want

As it turns out, it's not only what women want. Statistics say women buy more than 50 per cent of new cars and 85 per cent of buying decisions are made or influenced by women.

Carmakers are increasingly taking this into account and turning to women to determine the design and comfort of vehicles, and it's not just for your typical "female" cars.

Volvo is one manufacturer leading the way. It has developed a customer group of women in Sweden who have influenced smart solutions for the company and these have become qualities of all new Volvo cars, including the new C70, due in Australia by September.

Volvo spokesman Todd Hallenbeck says: "It's been going for a few years, at least close to a decade. They're just very much in tune with ... how they can improve [their cars]."

While the list of changes that evolved from this female customer group includes some qualities that may be viewed as typically "female", like colour coding on lids underneath the bonnet, "comfortable upholstery when wearing shorts or nylon stockings" and vanity mirrors, it also includes developments that suit all people regardless of gender.

These include comfort, handling and logic for towing and steering-input forces and gear-shift forces. Volvo unveiled the first concept car in the world to be designed and developed by women at the 2004 Geneva motor show. It says the vehicle, Your Concept Car (YCC), was made for everyone. One of the YCC project managers, Camilla Palmertz, says: "We've included women, not excluded men."

The end result was a sports coupe with gull-wing doors and a variety of practical solutions. Other carmakers are also looking to women for advice and increasing the number of women in the workplace.

In February this year, GM Holden was awarded an Employer of Choice for Women citation for the second year in a row.

GM Holden was the only automotive manufacturer this year to be among the 116 recipients of the Federal Government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) award however Ford has won the award before. GM Holden spokeswoman Kate Holehouse says the establishment of a Women's Council in 2005 has resulted in greater contribution by women in Holden. The company also has five women on its board of 13 directors.

GM Holden's Asia Pacific chief designer of colour and trim, Sharon Gauci, says women have various roles in Holden - with many influencing the outcome of vehicles.

Ford Australia says it has 41 women in senior management positions and four out of of the 12 members on the company's Operating Committee, are women.

Volvo's female-friendly changes

Changes made to Volvo cars because of suggestions made by the company's female customer group include:

  • Introducing colour-code markings on the lids under the bonnet, blue for washer fluid, black for oil and the same symbols used on the lids as used on the instrument cluster;
  • Improving front-seat adjustment range;
  • Improving seat-belt comfort and position;
  • Altering seating position when driving with knees together;
  • Using more comfortable upholstery for drivers wearing shorts or nylon stockings;
  • Adjusting the doors to make it easier to get in and out of the car;
  • Improving rear seat comfort;
  • Making it easier to move seats when entering the rear seat of a convertible;
  • Installing vanity mirrors;
  • Putting logic, function and symbols on controls such as climate control;
  • Putting controls within easy reach;
  • Reducing force needed to use pedals, shift gears, park brake and steering, and for opening doors, bonnet and boot;
  • Improving steering-wheel adjustment range;
  • Parking assistance;
  • Installing hooks and trays for bags and shopping in the boot;
  • Making owner's manual less technical and easier to understand.
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