Some cars may be 'cuter' than others, or smaller, or curvier -- or pink. But do 'chick cars' really exist? Caroline Kidd finds out
LADY Penelope glided around in a customised pink Rolls Royce in Thunderbirds, a shining beacon of femininity in a macho world of aircraft and missiles. Smart, confident Emma Peel in Sixties spy drama The Avengers drove the delicate, pretty powder blue Lotus Elan. In Legally Blonde, ditzy lawyer Elle Woods drove a Porsche Boxster, but in the sequel she had swapped it for an Audi TT -- ruining the street cred of both cars for guys everywhere.
So if it's pink, 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 a 'chick car' is 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 similarly cute 'face'. The Range Rover Evoque is the more stylish, ladylike 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 than others. Orla Kiely teamed up with Citroen to produce a DS3 with her famous leaf and petal designs. Hermes 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 in two kinds: in supercar guise, like the Lamborghini Murcielago 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 €1m for a few diamantes on the console, or for the 'chic' lady about town who wants a car as stylish as she is.
But the 'chick car' is not just a 21st-century phenomenon. In the Fifties, 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 2012 and women may still have problems exiting a car gracefully in a skirt, but now have the income to buy one. And car manufacturers recognise this.
Just last month 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 has a special climate-control system that can allegedly improve skin quality, plus UV-light-blocking glass!
Gaining notoriety as a 'chick car' can be the kiss of death for a car model. Research has shown that women will buy cars marketed towards men, but men are less enthusiastic about buying cars marketed towards women.
The Mazda MX5 is a case in point. Though not marketed as such, it gained an image as a 'chick car'. It ticked the boxes: 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, a more powerful engine and bigger alloy wheels.
Volkswagen face a similar challenge to overcome the 'chick car' label with the Beetle. To claw back some male interest in the car, the new Beetle just launched has lost some of its curves and looks a lot leaner.
So between marketing, aesthetics, 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.