What women really want in a car

Melissa Preddy
Special to The Detroit News

I had to smile at a news item earlier this month: Spanish carmaker SEAT debuted what it says is a vehicle especially for female drivers.

Dubbed “the SEAT Mii by Cosmopolitan” because it was designed in conjunction with the women’s magazine, the little bug of a vehicle is perfect for “confident, independent, active young women who are really going places,” said the press release by SEAT, a unit of the Volkswagen Group. Powered by a 1-liter, three-cylinder engine, the little city car will debut next year in the U.K.

Sounds good so far. And what did the creators come up with in the 18-month effort to make it a “woman’s car”? Well, it has headlights that look as though they are wearing eyeliner, fancy upholstery and bejeweled alloy wheels. And it comes in either white or a pretty violet-purple paint job.

Hmm. It seems carmakers haven’t made much progress since 1955, when Dodge marketed a special pink-and-white version of its Custom Royal Lancer sedan as “La Femme.” Despite tapestry fabrics, an engraved medallion for the owner’s name and accessories like a coordinating purse (complete with powder, lipstick and cigarette cases among other accoutrements) La Femme wasn’t a hit and fizzled out after two model years. Perhaps then, as now, women on the go had more than brocade upholstery and pink calfskin handbags on their minds.

I know today’s marketers are constantly trying to suss out new ways to appeal to female motorists, who are credited with much of the clout when it comes to household auto purchases. Here’s one clue: Bling is the least of our worries.

Today’s vehicles function as a lot more than transportation; they’re our cocoons and command centers, and the nexus between myriad facets of work life, household maintenance and family activities. Cabin and cargo features that facilitate the transition between home, work and play are eagerly awaited by many motorists, male and female, who in the meantime are making do with and making the best of car interiors that don’t really seem to have changed all that much over the past century.

How about rethinking the entire interior configuration in the first place, and some options for people who don’t routinely carry even one passenger let alone three or four? According to most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 76.4 percent of American workaday commuters are in their autos alone, for example. From observation, that seems to extend to many other motoring activities, at least among people without small children — and even they often have a family hauler and another car. Additionally, according to census figures, one-person households and those without children are rapidly becoming more widespread.

I’d like to see cabin options that omit the rear seat entirely in favor of organizers. Bins and cubbies and pull-down racks would come in handy for workout clothing, sporting goods, job-related equipment, road-trip supplies, items en route to or from repair shops, and other flotsam and jetsam that piles up for people with busy lives. Sturdier partitions for holding grocery sacks would be appreciated, so every trip to the store didn’t involve an assessment of which contents are least likely to break and stain if they fly off the rear seat on hard braking.

Pet booster seats and water dish holders, hooks and hangers for jackets, paperwork organizers, an emergency supply kit — and even pockets for the summer sandals kicked off by us barefoot drivers — would be far more creative and purposeful use of the many cubic feet of dead air behind the front seats.

Asking around, here are some other design features that would really get our consumer engines revving:

■A fold-down desk built into the passenger seat or dashboard area, to hold a tablet, notebook computer or paperwork used by people on the go. It could double as a take-out food meal tray.

■A programmable display screen where we could post memory-joggers such as “Mail Julie’s birthday card” or “Stop at shoe repair” — or even audio reminders that could replace the open-door chime. If my car would only chant “remember you’re out of lawnmower gas” or “buy dog food,” life would become a lot smoother.

■Heated or cooled cupholders, and an electric cooler cubby for transporting perishable groceries.

■Rubber flooring instead of carpeting — preferably with a drain hole to allow a thorough hose-down instead of futile fiddling with vacuum-cleaner attachments in crevices and under seats.

■A real old-fashioned analog odometer that shows fractions of miles, which are helpful for mapping out walking or running routes, giving directions such as “turn right a quarter-mile past the movie theater entrance,” and other precise measurements.

■Some kind of hoist that would help us get heavy bags of mulch, large suitcases or other bulk items up from the trunk without straining the lower back.

Nothing against cute headlights or fancy wheels, but a car that helps women (and men) stay organized and on top of multiple responsibilities would be far more respectful of what most of us accomplish as we jump in and out of the driver’s seat.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via