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Old 15th April 2004, 19:05   #1
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from FT.com - crazy but true

With its curved bodywork, flared hip-like rear wheel arches and double swells on its bonnet, the classic Jaguar E-Type sports car strikes many male drivers as indubitably, even ideally, female in form.

And perhaps it is no surprise that designers of cars, such as the E-Type, aimed mainly at aging men in search of their youth, took inspiration from the one thing guaranteed to appeal to most of their target consumers: lissom young women.

"There has been a long connection between vehicles and sex," says Dale Harrow, head of vehicle design at London's Royal College of Art. "But no one likes to talk about it."

Certainly, at the industry's big shows, most carmakers find discretion the better part of valour, perhaps for fear of offending women, an increasingly important part of the car-buying public. Only Fiat regularly makes an upfront connection between sex and car design, by upholding the tradition of having slinkily-dressed models rotating on motor show stands alongside its new vehicles.

Yet, behind the scenes, views about the "ideal" female figure continue to influence a sector where almost every designer of vehicle exteriors, and every chief designer at a major manufacturer, is a man. Some manufacturers go to extremes to find inspiration for the right shape.

Hiroyuki Ito, until recently head of European research at Honda, once dispatched his chief designer to Rio de Janiero during the carnival, to "look at very nice women's breasts". The concept behind the 1991 Civic, an innovative model but still a recognisably family car, "was the lady's backside", Ito says. For another vehicle, the designer was sent to Spain's Costa del Sol to sketch topless sunbathers.

This unreconstructed design approach will not win prizes for political correctness, and it co-exists rather unexpectedly with Ito's top priority - which is increasing Honda's appeal to women drivers. "We need to research female voices," he says. "There are some cars designed for gentlemen that females like, while cars designed for females have not been successful. Maybe we need to consider some sort of unisex car."

Honda is not the only manufacturer to put a premium on understanding sex appeal. Shuhei Toyoda, chief executive of Toyota Europe, is an industry heavyweight. His father's first cousin founded the carmaker 67 years ago, and he has spent much of his time in Europe trying to understand why Japanese-designed cars do not sell well on the continent. His theory? "The ideal female form is different in Europe and Japan."

In other words, Japanese women have a less curvy figure than Europeans. Cars designed with the idea in mind of a sexy Japanese woman do not necessarily appeal to Europeans, he explains. "I've told the designers to think about this," he says.

Strong sales of cars designed at Toyota's studio on France's Cote d'Azur have helped make the Japanese manufacturer one of the fastest-growing car brands in Europe.

Other Japanese carmakers have set up design studios in the US and Europe in an attempt to capture local factors in the design of their vehicles. Until now, the focus had been on understanding differences between Japan and other countries' cultures, rather than physiques.

At European and American design studios there is a greater awareness of political correctness about broaching the subject. Gone are the days when the Detroit designers of General Motors could call the protrusions on 1950s chrome-and-fins Cadillacs "Dagmars" after the buxom star of Hollywood Squares, a US
television show of the period.

Even here, though, the female form, and the human body in general, is reasserting its primacy on design views.

Chris Bird, chief designer at Ford of Europe, says this is because the design trend of "technological modernism", which emphasised the fact that the car was an advanced machine, is being replaced in Europe by a softer, more "sensual" look. He points to the flowing curves running from the bonnet to the roof of Fords, Mercedes, Volvos and Jaguars.

"That has an appeal to a lot of male buyers who have a much more emotional response [to the car]," he says. "The car isn't just a rational piece of transportation. It is a way for people to fulfil their fantasies. This idea of swelling hips over the wheels and curvaceous lines that go from one surface to another: there is no doubt that these were influences on some of the great vehicles."

Although some will see this as a stereotypical view of female bodyshapes, Bird, like other designers, believes women and men will buy cars with sensual lines. He says that it is not just about conceiving designs which men find alluring, but about capturing the essence of feminine form more generally.

If he is right, Toyoda's insistence that his designers concentrate on European body shapes, rather than Japanese ones, makes sense. "My theory is that if it is attractive to men it is acceptable to women," Toyoda says.

But not everyone agrees that this has to involve using the female form as the underlying template when developing new car models. J Mays, head of design at Ford in Detroit, points to the new Mustang, an "overtly masculine" car for which half the customers are women. "They buy it for exactly the reason the men do," he says. "They want to look sexy."

Aston Martin, long the favoured car of James Bond, has an enviable record in producing vehicles which please the eye. Its latest model, launched last month, is the DB9, a car designed to suggest feminine elegance as well as masculine muscle.

Henrik Fisker, Aston's chief designer, says the real trick is to make a car seen as seductive by both men and women, but in different ways. "It is like a pair of high-heeled shoes," he says. "A woman will put them on and feel sexy, while a man will feel they look sexy." Either way, he says, "the car has to be sexy".
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Old 15th April 2004, 20:26   #2
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See, I always knew that the two things I life for...have to be inter-related to each other!

Great find, Ajmat

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Old 21st April 2004, 09:54   #3
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Hey Ajmat,

I have always related one particular car to the female body, and strangely enough it is a very maculine, "beastly" car.

I couldnt find a better picture, but you should be able to see the hourglass figure>

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