A lot of women today are getting behind the wheels. From stylish looks and plush interiors to comfort and must-have accessories, the wish list for their joy ride is pretty long

Vidya Shankar, chairperson, Relief Foundation, buys a new car every four years. She went from Santro to Alto, and is currently studying a couple of models. She will drive home a car that guarantees “friendly, proximal service and comfy adjustable seats”. She’ll test the clutch for ease of use, and check interiors for clutter. “Our roads necessitate a tough body,” she says. “Do you see a car without a scratch or a bump?”

Cost too matters, as does aesthetics, but it’s always function over flash.

Recently, Sujatha Chakravarthy, associate director, Stag Software, checked out cars with power steering, good AC system, comfortable interiors, a well-positioned rear-view mirror, and trunk space. “I gave my Honda City to my husband, and bought a WagonR,” she says. “It’s easier to move from nasty drivers, and to park. Its sloping bonnet helps judgment. “We’re still evolving as drivers, wondering ‘can this go’?”

Small is best

Sharadha Shankar, environment activist (how about hybrid?) wants an affordable automatic transmission. “I lived in the U.S., and I’m used to that. Also, auto drive is one concern less on the road,” she says. “Santro has it, but steep at Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 70,000 more.” A chauffeur mom with a frenetic post-4 p.m. schedule of kids’ multiple activities, her vote is for smaller cars.

Are manufacturers watching? Looks like it, apparently. “Around 2002, when young women began to take huge salaries home, we noticed they were making car-purchasing decisions,” says AM Vignesh Raja, Cars India.

“Maruti Suzuki went in for power steering, attractive colours and adjustable seats, with women in mind. Even a vanity mirror in the sun visor and space for a comb were fixed.” The jack got shifted to the side of the car, but you crank it manually.

“Our USPs are low maintenance and an extensive network of service centres — features women look for,” he says. Other things that weigh in are discounts and mileage. “Girls also come in choosing a gift car for dad.”

Arul Subramaniam of Tata Motors has a features list that echoes what women want. “Tata Motors is addressing their needs in cars such as Indica Vista and Manza,” he says. “The increased aluminium content of our engines renders them less noisy. The low-end and flat torque characteristics make driving easier; even the diesel engines are easy to handle.”

Women might appreciate the tilt-adjustable power steering, sensor-managed pedals, lumbar support for front seats, larger glass area, smart wipe system, storage space, and adequate front and rear legroom. Rajiv Mitra of Hyundai Motors agrees that the swelling number of women drivers has brought the focus to their needs. Features such as safety, space, styling, and performance are universally appealing, he says “but more subtle needs of the changing market” must be addressed. Such as automatic transmission — available in Hyundai i10 and i20.

“Automatics find favour with women,” he says. There’s also attention to details such as vanity mirrors on the passenger side, easy entry and exit, adjustable steering wheel and seats.

And, marketing? “Remember actor Nadiya in the Arokya milk ad?” asks John Verghese of ad agency Rubecon. “In the ‘smart-mothers-choose’ series, she was in the driver’s seat talking to kids.” Preity Zinta was seen driving Hyundai’s ‘sunshine’ car.”

However, he doesn’t think there will be ‘men cars’ and ‘women cars’ soon. “It’s an urban, niche trend, a small segment. Today, a ‘family car’ is driven home by a man. Car-makers have to position them as a woman-friendly brand for ad-makers to pick it up. Will an exclusive woman’s car sell?”

Sadhasivam of Layam Advertising is making a proposal to his clients Maruti Suzuki, anyway. “Women are a distinct part of our clientele,” he says. “Why not highlight the gender-bending attributes of passenger cars?”