New Definition of Women's Work

If you are a male, you might take offense, but there is a new premise making the rounds that says, "If you meet the expectations of women, you'll exceed the expectations of men." While that might imply that men have lower expectations than women -- and many would say that's simple fact, not a sexist slam -- the credo, formulated by marketing consultant Marti Barletta, launched Volvo Car Corporation down the path that led to Your Concept Car (YCC), a striking gull-wing concept vehicle loaded with innovative features.

On a visit to Volvo in the autumn of 2001, Barletta, a U.S. expert on female consumer patterns, introduced the idea that vehicles designed by women would address the needs of all customers. Volvo execs took notice and formed an all-woman team to direct the development of the new concept car that would translate the vision of female designers, engineers and other professionals.

"We're sure it's right," said Camilla Palmertz, who is one of the two project managers for the YCC. "That's why that thesis has been our guiding light in developing Your Concept Car."

YCC is a sporty mid-size coupe about the size of the Volvo S60 with gull-wing doors and excellent driver visibility thanks to a low hood, a long rear window and a unique technology that tailors the car to the driver's size.

"We didn't want to put together something that was mundane and boring," Anna Rosen, the YCC's chief exterior designer said. "I wanted to design something exciting that would convey that it's fun to drive."

Volvo research shows female customers in the premium segment want everything men want in terms of performance, prestige and style. But it doesn't end there. They expect a bit more like smart storage solutions, easy entry and exit, good visibility, minimum maintenance, easy parking and a car they can personalize.

To provide buyers with those extras, the project team went to special lengths. For example, YCC designers determined the best place for keeping things on hand in the car is between the front seats. But that is where you normally find the gearshift lever and handbrake. "So we moved them," said Cindy Charwick, who designed the YCC interior. "In the YCC, there are gear levers by the steering wheel, and the parking brake is electronic and integrated." Suddenly, there was space for storage in the center console, making room for a shallow compartment for keys, mobile phones, coins and other small items. That compartment, in turn, slides back to reveal a deeper one, large enough for a handbag. A third compartment accommodates a notebook computer. As if all that isn't enough, an insulated food/drink compartment is within reach of the driver's seat and the console also features a wastebasket.

Getting tired of your car's interior? No problem with the YCC. Its cockpit can be dramatically altered. There are eight inter-changeable seat pad options with matching carpet that can be swapped easily, offering a whole range of styles inspired by contemporary home interior design. "There is no need to trade in your car just because you have grown tired of its color scheme," said Maria Uggla, the color and trim designer for the YCC. "You can change it anyway you want very simply."

Other innovations in the car include Easy-Clean paint, which behaves like the coating on a non-stick frying pan, and the Ergovision system, which records a driver's body measurements (height, leg length, arm length) and stores them in a personal key unit. When the key is docked on the center console, the seat, steering wheel, pedals, head restraint and seat belt are all adjusted automatically. The result is a fully personalized driving position with the best line of vision.

In all, the YCC is a rare animal, a concept car that actually offers new concepts. We're certain that we'll be seeing many of these innovations soon, and men as well as women will reap the benefits.

Cleveland-based contributor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about design issues.