One car company has been introducing us to its feminine side

Mazda has shown it’s the exception to the rule that the car industry is dominated by men.

A special Women at Mazda Day showcased women in key positions, who are bringing a new dimension to car design.

They have already helped to create the Sassou concept car and other new models for the Japanese manufacturer, which sells 300,000 cars a year in Europe.

The Sassou, described as an iPod on wheels because of its amazing electronic devices, stuns with its lighting effects. It was inspired by Japanese Shoji rice-paper doors that partly hide what is behind them.

Maria Greger, senior designer of colour and trim at the Mazda Europe design centre in Germany, studied textile design and worked in the fashion and furniture fabric industry before joining Mazda more than 10 years ago.

She loves doing design work for cars because, she says, the car is a complete concept in itself.

"When I worked for fabric suppliers, I always used to look into cars to see what their interiors were like," says Maria, an elegant 49-year-old.

"My boyfriend used to tell me not to do it because people would think I was planning on stealing from the cars. I used to look to see if there was good colour combination and at the quality of the materials used. It is always exciting to look into cars."

Her good taste is reflected in her input in the design of the interior of the Sassou, a model aimed at city singletons and first shown at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

"We see the interior material as a T-shirt fabric, which will appeal to young people - and to all of us who wear T-shirts," says Maria.

She selected a fashionable, sporty petrol-grey colour for some interior surfaces to accentuate the Sassou’s light, aerodynamic feel.

Working alongside Maria is young mum Luciana Silvares, aged 34, who says women are aware of colour, trends and new ways of development.

She points out the Sassou’s surprising dashboard, which lights up when the car engine is turned on.

"The car reacts as a living being," she says

Mum-to-be Michaela Volk, also 34, whose fluent Japanese is a huge asset, works in advanced technology and engineering, looking for ideas to make a car easier to use and safer.

"Researching ways to improve security is what I like most about my job," she says.

"Lots of cars are stolen in England and the requirements of insurance companies on the car industry are quite tough. Security is a major issue in the UK, more important than in any other European country."

As a woman driver, Michaela says she know what she likes and doesn’t like about cars.

"What I don’t like about cars is they have far too many electronic bits, with far too many functions which I would never use. I’d like it to be mechanical, but I think what will happen is the electronics will become more reliable."

Petra Schulze-Pieper, aged 43, began her career with Opel - Vauxhall’s sister company in Germany - 20 years ago as a design modeller, working in clay. She was the first and only woman in the team until the day she left.

She joined Mazda as senior modeller nine years ago but nowadays works in the consumer insights department, researching what people want in a car.

A turning point in her career was when she led the team which planned the new Mazda6 MPS, a sporty saloon.

"We believe the time when customers were classified according to gender, age, income levels is over. Now mindset, lifestyle, the way people live and the car they dream of is more important," says Petra.

"The car needs to serve a lot of different needs, apart from being just a transportation tool. The car provides a very, very deep set of emotions. It is a natural human desire to have a feeling of mobility and flexibility.

"As we spend more and more time in the car, the environment and interior are more and more important.

"Customers tell us they have a busy life with their profession and family and the minutes they may spend in their car is their time. They put on their music and it is their own space. So a car expresses their own individuality".

Published : 23/05/06 Author : Melanie Carter

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