According to a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, female licensed drivers outnumber their male counterparts for the first time in automotive history. This study examined gender trends in driver’s permits between 1995 and 2010. As of 1995, male registered drivers outnumbered female drivers with permits 89.2 million to 87.4 million. By 2010, however, 105.7 women had driver’s licenses compared to 104.3 million men. Results indicate that “[w]omen are more likely than men to purchase smaller, safer and more fuel-efficient cars; to drive less, and to have a lower fatality rate per distance driven”. These findings effectively place women in the driver’s seat, having assumed a position to take control over the country’s direction in matters of efficient affordable transportation and clean energy relative to it.
Certainly, these findings also impact automobile design. However, it is noteworthy that the role of women in car design is not a new phenomenon. In the period of more than 120 years since cars have been on the road, women have been instrumental in automobile design but largely were rendered invisible in this role by automakers. In the 1960s’, auto companies, such as Ford, advertised cars for women, but the “woman’s car” generally was either smaller, cheaper and cuter than cars geared to male buyers, or it was the oversized family transport vehicle. This notion directly reflected the perceived role of women in society in terms of participation in financial contributions and decisions. Volvo set out to court women car buyers in 2005 with the “Your Concept Car“, which addressed automotive design features important to women, showing that these same features, i.e., interior space, position of front end and windows for better field vision, etc., also were important to men, thus leveling the playing field regarding cars in this price range. Other than this, the role of women in the automobile industry basically was reduced to a “sex sells” mentality with car show images of beautiful women alongside gorgeous cars in an attempt to lure men to buy.
Now, fast forward to 2012 where truly “you’ve come a long way, baby!” Women now outnumber men in college attendance and are commanding higher salaries (though they still lag behind men at a rate of 77 cents per dollar). Women now are seen in the boardroom more often and assume higher positions in Fortune 500 companies. Also, they are behind the wheel in professional auto racing. Women were a deciding factor in the 2012 presidential election. It is a normal progression for women to have a major impact on economic trends in America, including the auto industry.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of discussions and compromise on legislative issues regarding clean, affordable, safe and efficient transportation, as well as other green initiatives. Hopefully, the major organizations in the green movement will work hard to include women in the dialogue and to gain their support to advance their many causes, particularly in the area of transportation. As the primary nurturers in our society, women are a captive audience for the message to live green, be green.
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