Do chick cars really exist?
Lady Penelope glided around in a customized, pink Rolls Royce in Thunderbirds, a shining beacon of femininity in a macho world of aircraft and missiles. Smart, confident Emma Peel in 1960s spy drama The Avengers drove the delicate, pretty, powder blue Lotus Elan. In Legally Blonde, ditzy lawyer Elle Woods drove a Porsche Boxster but by the time the sequel was released she had swapped the car for an Audi TT, ruining the street credit of both cars for guys everywhere
So if it’s pink, small, compact, curvy, cute, convertible, or even better, a combination of these, there just might be a chick behind the wheel. But is this enough to deem it a chick car?
Trying to define what is a chick car is risky. But let’s be honest; there are cars out there that just scream femininity. The Volkswagen Beetle is a prime example. With its curvy hips, innocent bug-eyed stare and flower vase on the dashboard as standard, the Beetle is the ultimate chick car; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every female wants one.
The dinky Fiat 500 is another unabashed “chick car” with a similar cute, unthreatening face. The Range Rover Evoque is the more stylish, lady-like cousin of the rugged Range Rover and was recently awarded the Women’s World Car of the Year Award for 2012 for its appeal to women. It was even treated to a makeover by Victoria Beckham.
The current trend for collaborations between car manufacturers and fashion houses is another clue to the fact that certain cars are more gender oriented. Orla Kiely teamed up with Citroen to produce a DS3 with her famous leaf and petal designs on the roof and on some of the interior detailing. Hermés, more famous for handbags and scarves than car design, produced a special version of the Smart and you can buy a Gucci clad Fiat 500.
It is interesting to note that designer car tart ups seem to come only in two kinds: in supercar guise like the Lamborghini Murciélago by Versace or in smaller, compact cars like the Citroen DS3 or Fiat 500. It’s telling enough; these special editions are marketed either to the super-rich who can afford to pay one million euro for a few diamantes on the centre console or for the “chic” lady about town who wants a car as stylish as she is.
But the idea of a “chick car” is not just a twenty first century phenomenon. In the 1950s Chrysler launched the Dodge LaFemme aimed exclusively at women. It had a predictable two tone pink and white paint finish, storage places designed for a hat and purse and a special swivel seat so that the woman could exit the car in a skirt and still preserve her modesty. But the car was not a success because most of the target market did not have access to their own money to purchase the car.
Fast forward to 2013 and women may still have problems exiting a car gracefully in a skirt, but many now have the income to buy one. And car manufacturers recognise this.
Just recently Honda introduced the first car designed, produced and advertised with solely women in mind. Dubbed the Honda Fit She’s series, it is currently only available in Japan. Not surprisingly it comes in pink and contains special features to appeal to a female’s vanity: a special climate control system that can allegedly improve skin quality and UV light blocking glass!
Admittedly there are blatant efforts by the motoring industry to sell cars to women. Marketing towards men seems to be less aggressive. But the tide may be turning. You see, as hinted, gaining notoriety as a “chick car” can be the kiss of death for a car manufacturer trying to sell a particular model. Research has shown that women will buy cars marketed towards men, but men are less enthusiastic about buying a car marketed towards women.
The Mazda MX5 is a case in point. Though not marketed as such, it gained an image of being a “chick car”. It ticked the boxes for a “chick car”: small, compact, sporty, but not absurdly powerful. And with its pop up headlamps it was “cute”. In an attempt to broaden the MX-5’s appeal and counteract falling sales, Mazda gave the third generation of the car a more aggressive stance, twin exhausts and a more powerful engine and bigger alloy wheels than the previous model.
Volkswagen face a similar challenge to Mazda to overcome the death of the “chick car” label that sits so comfortably with the Beetle. To claw back some male interest in the car, the new Beetle just launched has lost some of its curves and has come back looking a lot leaner in an attempt to shake off that cutesy, girly image.
So between a heady mix of marketing, aesthetics, design, flower vases and a few hormones thrown in, the “chick car” does exist, whether it’s right or not. But where does the “chick car” go from here? Women may like “cute” things but just because a car is pink or comes with special glass to protect their skin doesn’t mean every “chick” wants one. And there will always be the chicks who want a low slung, rear wheel drive, V8 supercar sitting on 19” rims. I’m one of them.
3rd January, 2013