Women Buy More Cars, So Why Are the Designs So Macho?

Building design elements into cars that make sense for dogs and kids and groceries isn’t sexist, or buying into a stereotype—it’s a nod to the invisible labor women do every day, regardless of whether they work full-time, stay home, or something in between. And, incidentally, plenty of men do that labor, too, and might appreciate a small detail that makes dealing with a car seat or traveling with a golden retriever easier.

Scotty Reiss, founder of the site A Girls Guide To Cars, spends her time helping women navigate the car industry, exploring things like which cars have headrests best suited for ponytails (which lots of people wear regardless of gender), or the way fashion influences car design, even profiling designers at OEMs like GMC and Toyota. She says she’s seeing some inklings of Offer’s notion already, namely at Buick (which, incidentally, S&P Mobility said accounted for more than 55 percent of all new female vehicle registrations in 2022).

“Buick has been redesigning its brand unabashedly for women,” says Reiss. “They have tooled their interior to the female buyer with lighter colors, larger sunroofs and a cabin that’s designed to make you feel good. Buick has really tried to figure out what women need and want in their cars and deliver it in a way that’s attainable.”

Of course, all OEMs do their homework in terms of marketing and customer focus groups. They are well aware of female buying power. Cars.com released data in 2019 showing that female consumers accounted for 62 percent of all new cars sold in the US and influence more than 85 percent of all car purchases. Kia as well, says Reiss, is competing with Buick for the female buyer: “The Sorrento is another good example. It’s very functional and easy to use: center row captain’s chairs, room for big dogs and babies.” (General Motors, which owns Buick, declined comment for this story.)

Volvo’s All-Female Concept Team

Perhaps, though, it may not always feel that the end result of designing for women resonates with men and women alike, much less the LGBTQIA+ community. For instance, in 2004, an all-female team at Volvo asked women what they’d like to see in a vehicle, both inside and out. The result was the one-off Your Concept Car (YCC), which aimed to hit all of the notes the women surveyed listed: easy to park, minimal maintenance, smart storage, good visibility, easy to get in and out of. Where is it now? Not on the market, though the two-year-old Reddit thread discussing the YCC and what it could have been is packed with insight from gearheads of all genders.

There is some evidence to suggest that OEMs see women as a voice of practicality in car design, especially as the industry shifts to EV technology. On an all-female panel in January 2023 held at a meeting of the National Automobile Dealers Association, a few sales and marketing execs from GMC, Toyota, and Audi gathered to talk through what women want in EVs.

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