What do you get when you challenge four female engineers to build a better car? Simple – you get a car many women decide just might be the perfect vehicle. Involving female engineers in the making of stuff women use isn’t new – but it’s an idea that’s catching. The Celebrity Solstice was designed by moms in 2007 and car companies are catching on. It’s time to start listening to the group of consumers that buy more than half of all vehicles on the market.
Women now contribute equally to household income and take part in more than 80% of all family car buying decisions. But let’s face it, women still do the heavy lifting when it comes to groceries, playing taxi driver, etc. and they feel the pain when the vehicle doesn’t meet their needs.
Sadly, the problem of tailoring products to women starts with women themselves. When it comes to being in engineering roles, the amount of women entering undergraduate engineering programs is decreasing. According to the American Society of Engineering Education, the percentage of undergraduate engineering degrees going to women in 2009 was 17.8 percent, a 15-year-low. It’s hard to produce products for women when they’re nowhere to be found during the manufacturing process.
Recognizing this need, General Motors and the GM Foundation in the U.S. support several programs aimed at encouraging women to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, including high school robotics programs and college scholarships.
“Women are major automotive consumers and automakers that want to appeal to them need to understand what their needs and requirements are,” said Rebecca Lindland, director of research at IHS Automotive. “Women engineers can provide a unique perspective to the design and engineering process."
Take a woman’s body size for example. On average, we’re smaller than men and our ergonomic needs are different. We also have a heightened awareness of safety.
“We need to encourage more young women and girls to venture into engineering and show them it’s not just numbers, but it’s colour and style and design,” she said. “Women add a necessary element to enhance a vehicle’s appeal and the entire development process benefits from that added dimension."
Check out the female brains that went into the Chevrolet Malibu.
The Malibu moms
Suzanne “Suzy” Cody, aerodynamics engineer – Cody is a rocket scientist – literally – with a degree in aerospace engineering. Known for her “GM blue” hair highlights, she’s also a force to be reckoned with in the wind tunnel and on the roller derby track.
A mother of two young boys, she’s responsible for the aerodynamic performance of the new Malibu and her work has resulted in a vehicle with a superior wind drag rating – close to that of the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle – which means increased gas savings for Malibu drivers.
“I’m a single mom, and every dollar I spend on gasoline is a dollar I’m not investing in my boys’ futures,” said Cody. “So this is personal to me.”
Her knowledge of wind drag also helps her on the Bath City Roller Girls roller derby team, where fans know her as Shovey Camaro, after her passion for the Chevrolet Camaro sports car. Cody is also a passionate leader of a local moms club that helps support local charities.
Julie Kleinert, child safety technical lead – As the lead engineer responsible for child occupant protection, Kleinert’s job is to evaluate and develop the safety performance requirements for the vehicle restraint systems that will protect children who ride in the Malibu and other GM vehicles.
“Knowing that the work I do helps protect other people’s children is very rewarding,” said Kleinert, a mother of four and grandmother of two. “I love to be able to tell people what I do, and how much work goes into the safety of every GM vehicle.”
Kara Gordon, lead acoustic noise engineer –Gordon is a specially trained audiologist whose sensitive hearing skills – always a tactical advantage for a mother – helped her identify where certain noises may have originated, and how to reduce, block and absorb the noise from entering the cabin of the new Malibu. She is key part of a team that eradicates the main sources of noise – wind, road and tire – from entering the interior of the new Malibu.
Her work has helped make the new Malibu the quietest Chevrolet ever for interior cabin noise and, as a result, customers around the world can expect a quiet ride.
Tracy Mack-Askew, vehicle line manager – Mack-Askew’s passion for science and math was sparked during a high school field trip to view a vehicle crash test. That experience led her to pursue an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an engineering career at GM following graduation.
As a wife, a mother of two young children, and a Harvard University master’s candidate (she already has a master’s degree from Purdue University), Mack-Askew is also an accomplished multi-tasker.
The 2013 Malibu and 2013 Malibu Eco are scheduled to begin production this summer at plants in Fairfax, Kan. and Detroit-Hamtramck, Mich. The 2013 Malibu will serve as a flagship Chevrolet midsize in many parts of the world. The Eco model Chevrolet’s most fuel-efficient Malibu ever, delivering an estimated fuel consumption rating of 8.1L/100km city driving and 5.3L/100km highway.
Image: Chevrolet Canada