Women are shorter than men and have smaller muscles. They drive their children more often than their partners and usually do the household shopping. And they are also buying cars to a growing extent; today, over half of Volvo car buyers in the USA are women.
At least eight out of ten car designers are men. As such, they often tend to adopt technology for its own sake. Women, on the other hand, give more thought to the practical and the functional.
A reference group of eight women has been established to consider womens’ requirements as they apply to Volvo cars.
Gun Milton and Gerd Carlsson both possess a solid Volvo background. In addition, both have been members of the Volvo Cars Female Customer Reference Group (FCRG) since its inception 13 years ago.
From the beginning, the group’s attention has been focused mainly on in-car safety, with particular emphasis on child safety. The activity has been developed and structured progressively in the context of Complete Vehicle Verification (CVV).
As group coordinator, Gun herself works ‘at the coalface’ in the CVV Property Validation department.
One woman among 15 men
“I am the only woman among 15 male test engineers in the department,” she says. “My role is to represent the female customer’s interests in the development of new cars. Apart from the various new car projects, most of our assignments come from CVV.”
Gun and Gerd explain that all eight group members continue to work at their ordinary jobs in various parts of the organisation. The work of the group occupies about 5% of their total working time.
“We have a scheduled two-hour meeting every second week,” explains Gerd. “Other than that, we come together when someone calls a meeting to deal, for example, with a test driving programme or a customer clinic.
“Within the framework of FCRG’s activities, each member of the group is basically responsible for one of the current new car projects.”
Not part of the organisation
“So we are not an independent group in organisational terms, but work mainly in consultation with the test engineers.”
A bigger and more informal group of Volvo women exists alongside FCRG. This group consists of 20 women representing a wider spread in terms of ages and sizes.
“Members of that group are sometimes used to carry out special assessments, such as testing seat belt ergonomics.”
Much of the work of the Female Customer Reference Group relates to Complete Vehicle Verification (CVV), which consists of three groups. In addition to Property Validation, these are Product Verification (TP5) and Field Testing.
Tests with actual customers
TP5 is responsible for reliability testing at all stages of a project, including functional verification, appearance inspection (internal and external), and checking of clearances and fits. FCRG has developed a special inspection checklist for this purpose.
The Field Testing department also has a separate inspection checklist, which has been developed to gather information on the condition of the product after many kilometres of driving by actual customers.
The department also conducts its own tests on proving grounds and public roads around the world. In addition, it provides a number of cars for testing by actual customers. Within VCC, company cars are driven and tested by Volvo employees, while others are tested externally by various courier and taxi companies.
“The courier drivers include a number of women, who provide us with an excellent insight into what is good and bad in our cars from the female perspective,” remarks Gun Milton. “These are real-life customers and our interviews with them provide us with very many interesting angles.”
Gun lists the areas of most importance to the Womens’ Reference Group:
* Forces: What force must the driver or owner exert to perform various actions?
* Adjustments: How can the seat, for example, be adjusted to suit a very short person. How is it contoured to suit women of different sizes?
* Logic: Can an ordinary owner understand the workings of the car without consulting the owner’s manual?
* Entry and exit: How easy is it to get in and out, especially in the case of a high car?
* Ease of managing child seats and other accessories.
* Securing luggage
“Functionality is extremely important to us,” emphasise Gun and Gerd.
“Although we basically like technology, we constantly ask our male colleagues to explain what it is to be used for. Technology is obviously important to women too; however, we should be able to see what benefits it offers us and we want it to be easily understandable.”
They briefly describe some of the developments taking place in the area of technology, noting that the RTI navigation system is superb – once you have learned how to use it.
They also react to the rapid development of in-car infotainment and telematics:
“These are interesting to some extent; however, the sub-menus contain a number of functions which are a bit superfluous. Just like mobile phones – although they can do hundreds of things, you really need only two or three functions...
“One of our tasks is to react to the development of expensive functions which very few customers need. For example, many people may regard a simple storage compartment as a more preferable feature.”
The group members are naturally involved in an ongoing debate with their male colleagues:
“We question everything continuously – but constructively. And although there can be a great deal of talk, we are making progress. We help to prevent excesses in the form of unnecessarily complex technology which nobody wants or needs.”
Prioritising the practical
“Women have different priorities to men; they are concerned mainly with practical features like storage compartments and whether the functions are simple, for example how to fold down the seats in an estate model. We women are shorter and weaker than men, and we act differently. To some extent, it’s about resolving the conflict between ergonomics and design.
“Nevertheless, young men are beginning to think more and more like us women – you might call it a ‘generation shift’!”
Gun Milton says that long nails and tight skirts are really important – especially in the USA.
“But we don’t want to limit our focus to such things – we are much more serious than that in our collaboration with other test functions. Our activities also ensure that important aspects are not neglected, bearing in mind that we are working on behalf of a very large number of female customers.
“The number of female design engineers at Volvo Cars is actually relatively high, although most of them do not work on the product as a whole – that is, on the complete car.”
Early involvement essential
The two women also stress the importance of becoming involved in a project at an early stage:
“We are very anxious to be involved at the earliest possible stage – in the first test runs, on virtual expeditions, and so on. We are already involved in the planning stages of all new projects with the aim of exerting an influence from the very beginning, since there is not a great deal that can be changed once the car enters production.
“What is good for us is definitely good for men too. Holders for carrier bags in the luggage compartment, child seat and booster seat attachments, centre armrests and devices for folding down the seats are typical of features which we have influenced and which are appreciated by most customers,” declare Gun Milton and Gerd Carlsson.
The Volvo Cars Female Customer Reference Group. From left: Annika Jansson, Jessica Karlsson, Gun Milton, Git Ström, Katarina Johansson, Helena Bergström Pilo, Lena Johansson and Gerd Carlsson. (Left)
The Volvo Cars Female Customer Reference Group. Front, from left: Katarina Johansson, Helena Bergström Pilo, Annika Jansson and Gerd Carlsson. Rear, from left: Jessica Karlsson, Git Ström, Gun Milton and Lena Johansson. (Right)
Volvo Cars Female Customer Reference Group (FCRG)
Gun Milton: coordinator: Test engineer at Property Validation, Complete Vehicle Verification. FCRG member since the group’s inception in 1989
Gerd Carlsson: Involved in marketing and sales at Special Vehicles.
FCRG member since the group’s inception in 1989
Helena Bergström Pilo: Section head, Climate Development
Git Ström: Section head, Emission Testing
Katarina Johansson: Project cost controller, new car projects
Jessica Karlsson: Executive Assistant to Volvo Cars Research and Product Development head
Annika Jansson: Test engineer, Product Verification (TP5), Complete Vehicle Verification.
Lena Johansson: Test engineer, Field Testing, Complete Vehicle Verification
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