Switzerland: Volvo unveils women-designed car

Volvo Car Corp.'s decision 14 months ago to allow hundreds of women employees to create a vehicle that suits their needs has given birth to a roomy, 215-horsepower coupe that's easy to park, maintain and keep clean.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2004 13:59 IST

Volvo Car Corp.'s decision 14 months ago to allow hundreds of women employees to create a vehicle that suits their needs has given birth to a roomy, 215-horsepower coupe that's easy to park, maintain and keep clean.

From the outset in December 2002, when Volvo's top executives approved the project, every aspect of the car's design and production has been overseen by women, a first in the automotive industry.

The sporty YCC concept (Your Concept Car) was shown publicly for the first time Tuesday during media preview days at the Geneva International Motor Show.

Hans-Olov Olsson, president and chief executive of the Swedish car maker, said the endeavor seemed logical given that the male-dominated industry is constantly trying to attract more women buyers.

Through customer research, Olsson said, the company discovered that women want everything in a car that men want in terms of performance and styling, "plus a lot more that male car buyers have never thought to ask for."

"We learned that if you meet women's expectations, you exceed those for men," he said at the unveiling.

The result: A car that's designed to be nearly maintenance free, requiring an oil change every 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles.) When it's time for an engine inspection, the car sends a wireless message to a local service center, which notifies the driver. The vehicle has no hood, only a large front end primarily suited for opening by a mechanic. It also features a race-car-like fueling system with a roller-ball valve opening for the nozzle but no gas cap. The engine is a low-emission, gas-electric hybrid. "You get the power, and you're environmentally OK at the same time," said Tatiana Butovitsch, the project's communications manager.

Gull-wing doors allow easy access to space behind the driver's seat. The bottom of the rear seats fold up, similar to theater seating, providing more storage space. The car also has dirt-repellant paint and glass, exchangeable seat covers with matching carpet and sensors that allow for easier parking. Volvo, part of Ford Motor Co., has 28,159 employees worldwide, 20 percent of whom are women.

Butovitsch said the project team included five women managers and an additional 20 or so who made all calls regarding interior and exterior design. The leaders at times tapped the knowledge and insight of 400 other women who work for the automaker. "Some gave a couple of hours, some a couple of weeks," Butovitsch said.

The group studied vehicle aspects such as storage, ergonomics and maintenance, keeping a common theme in mind: What do women want? The idea of catering more to women's needs makes perfect business sense, said Art Spinella, president of a U.S.-based CNW Marketing Research. Spinella said women either will act alone or have a say in roughly 80 percent of all vehicle purchases in the United States this year.

Butovitsch acknowledged the US$3.5 million project had some skeptics at first, but she said the resistance ended when it became clear "this was not going to be a pink, cute-looking car but rather a very smart-looking vehicle."

Concept cars like the YCC typically either end up in production, lead to other designs or simply go away.

Volvo officials say they have no immediate plans to mass produce the new prototype, but the company is likely to use some of its features on other vehicles.

Mark Fields, who heads Ford's Premier Automotive Group that includes Volvo, said which applications emerge from concepts is usually based on feedback from consumers and industry observers. "Concept cars can be extremely useful," he said. "They can either confirm a huge opportunity or they can help you avoid a huge disaster."

Butovitsch said she and others involved in the project view it as a "think tank."

"It's full of good ideas, and the most popular of those ideas are the ones that go into production cars," she said. "The more, the merrier, if you ask us."

The YCC concept may be unique in terms of all-women design, but it's not the first time an automaker has targeted a female audience with a specific vehicle.

Dodge, for example, launched La Femme in the mid-1950s, a rose-colored vehicle that was discontinued after a couple of years. One of the car's features, according to Chrysler literature: A compartment on the back of one of the seats that held a "stunning shoulder bag in soft rose leather ... fitted with compact, lighter, lipstick and cigarette case."

First Published: Mar 08, 2004 13:59 IST