Back in 1955, Dodge introduced a new model called La Femme. Aimed at women, it was painted in pastel colours, and included a matching raincoat and umbrella.
It failed, proving that it takes more than just a few “feminine touches” to appeal to female buyers. But while automakers generally know what won’t work, it’s an ongoing challenge to determine what does.
“I think women are misunderstood, and it’s because the industry assumes they’re disinterested in cars, and find them boring and one-dimensional,” says Rachel Nguyen, director of exploratory and advanced product planning for Nissan’s head office in Los Angeles. “Instead, they see it in their lives, and if they will enjoy being in it.
“When women walk into a dealership, they don’t say, ‘Wow, look at that new grille, it’s so great compared to the last generation.’ They look at the whole thing, and it’s more than just the product.”
Nguyen works with teams of designers, engineers and planners to identify major trends and customer needs, and also with consumers. While discussion groups are important, the company also uses immersion research that can include going into people’s homes. “We’re looking for insights,” she says. “It’s not typica l market research. Immersing in these women’s lives is where we gain our insight and tells us what we need to do.”
This research has led Nissan to incorporate such things as lighting and materials to improve the vehicle cabin’s appearance, along with practicality. On three-row SUVs, the second-row seat slides forward in such a way that if it has a car seat on it, it’s still easy to get into the third row. “We said, let’s finally get it right where I don’t have to move my kid out of the car seat to get my other kid into the back seat,” Nguyen says. “We put our foot down, and put a push on engineering for that.”
Women also want technology as much as men do, but it needs to be intuitive and easy to use. The company is continually working on designs that take the enormous amount of information available, and present it in formats that are accessible, affordable, and also minimize distraction. “It’s the kiss of death to say that you’re designing for women,” she says. “If you meet their needs, you will capture the needs of everyone.”