Volvo Reveals Car Designed by Women
By JOHN PORRETTO, AP Auto Writer
GENEVA - More than a year ago, Volvo Car Corp. gave women employees a special project: design the car they would like to drive.
The result — a roomy, 215-horsepower coupe — makes a statement about what women want. Simply put, they want more.
The workers demanded 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," said Hans-Olov Olsson, Volvo's president and chief executive.
"We learned that if you meet women's expectations, you exceed those for men," he said.
The YCC concept (Your Concept Car) was shown publicly for the first time Tuesday during media preview days at the Geneva International Motor Show. It's not just powerful and sporty, but also 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 result: A car that's designed to be nearly maintenance free, requiring an oil change only every 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 doesn't have a hood — the whole front end lift ups for easy access by a mechanic, since the designers didn't envision doing much engine work themselves. You fill up the tank using a roller-ball valve opening, like many race cars have, because it's simpler and less messy than removing a 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 guide the driver 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 20 or so other female employees 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 CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore. 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 said the $3.5 million project had some skeptics but 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."
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 feedback from consumers and industry observers usually determines which features from concepts endure.
"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."
The moral of the story? I dunno. But it's not a coincidence that half the people in my department are women. (Literally. 6 people, 3/3 split. Adding the interns, we had a 1/1 split there. Add in the operator, only one, and the scales tip in favor of the men. And of course that's not including me. But hey, YOU find a technical department with a split that close to even.)