This week is notable for two significant dates on the calendar: International Women’s Day on Sunday, the 8th of March, and the opening of the International Motor Show in Geneva a few days earlier. You might assume that there is not much in common between the two, a testosterone-fuelled car event and a day celebrating the female gender, but there certainly is.
In the midst of petrolhead heaven at this week’s glamorous automotive shop window happening just across the road from Geneva Airport, a small but significant ceremony is taking place. It is the presentation to Mercedes-Benz, the world’s oldest car maker, of certificates confirming the company’s status as producer of the car chosen by an international panel of women motoring writers as the current best of the best.
The Mercedes S-Class is the reigning Women’s World Car of the Year, judged by 21 professional female motoring writers from 16 countries across the globe. Two of us, representing the UK, are tasked to make the presentation to the company’s world chief of sales and marketing. The winning car is proof, if any were needed 15 years into the 21st century, that women have long since broken out of the stereotype of having a preference for small city runabouts in a fetching shade of pink.
The rest of the list of best cars chosen for their exceptional merit by the WWCOTY judges is similarly robust: family car, Audi A3; sports car, Audi S3; sports utility: Range Rover Sport; green car, Tesla Model S; luxury car, the Mercedes S. Only the budget car category, awarded to the Honda Jazz, comes closer to the common (male) assumption of the kind of car that women prefer to drive.
Women are increasingly a driving force to be reckoned with in the car world. Female car buyers now account for well over 40 per cent of UK car purchases, while 80 per cent of car choice is said to be influenced by the views of women. Car makers ignore the female view at their peril, and they are keenly aware of the fact. Car advertising is increasingly targeting a female audience.
Women car buyers, just like their male counterparts, vary hugely in their preferences. Depending on lifestyle, life stage and budget, they may veer towards singleton hatchbacks, breezy bachelor convertibles, sensible family wagons or sexy sports cars. There are gender differences though. Studies have shown that men are primarily turned on by cars’ looks and performance, while women tend to be wooed by more practical considerations like value and economy.
Blokes may not like it, but way back in history a woman was instrumental in establishing the viability of that new fangled invention, the motor car. Karl Benz is known as the inventor of the first car, but it was his wife Bertha who proved its viability by taking the rudimentary ‘horseless carriage’ on a pioneering road trip across a rugged area of 19th century Germany.
So while celebrating International Women’s Day, we should also celebrate women’s long-established and ongoing relationship with cars. Maybe we’re the real petrolheads!