By Sara Dinnen
It’s not often women make history with cars. But in June this year that’s exactly what happened in England.
The occasion was the presentation of the trophy to Jaguar for the F-Pace winning the 2016 Women’s World Car of the Year Award. It was the first time since the motor car was invented that 11 women motoring journalists had been in the same room at the same time.
Women’s World Car of the Year jury members present the trophy to Head of Jaguar Land Rover, Dr Ralph Speth, in Coventry, 2017. Ian Callum, the designer of the supreme award-winning Jaguar F-Pace is third from right.
Is that an indictment on the motor industry? Or was it simply the time for women to celebrate cars, and their own efforts within the industry, has come?
The women motoring journalists were from 10 different countries. And, yet, all had tales to tell of opposition to what they have chosen to do for a living – road test cars and write about them. From some quarters, there is an air of incredulity about what they do.
One of the New Zealand judges on the jury, Sandy Myhre from Okiato in the Bay of Islands, said when she first started writing on cars for the now-defunct Auckland Star, she was allowed to test a car for one hour, provided she “had a man in the passenger seat”.
Women’s World Car of the Year CEO and Founder, Sandy Myhre from New Zealand, pictured here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She is the biographer of Indy to Indy, a year in the life of Kiwi racing driver, Scott Dixon. Photo: Terry Marshall
As further testament that times are a’changing, three motor companies have hosted the women journalists at specifically organised press conferences. The first was Ford of Europe. The company invited eight of the judges to Cologne when the Fiesta Ecoboost won the supreme award in Women’s World Car of the Year.
It may have been purely coincidental that the CEO of Ford of Europe and the Head of Communications at the time were both women. Barb Samardzich has since retired from the motor industry and Elena Cortesi moved from Germany to head Ford’s communications office in Detroit.
Shortly after Barb Samardzich was appointed to head Ford of Europe, General Motors in the USA announced the appointment of Mary Barra as CEO of the global car maker, the first woman to reach that exalted position. She is now Chairman and CEO.
In 2016 Volvo invited the women to Gothenburg to hand over the trophy for the XC90 winning the supreme award. The head of Volvo Group, Mr Håkan Samuelsson, said there are only three car awards Volvo recognises and one of those is Women’s World Car of the Year.
This year, 2017, Jaguar organised the trophy presentation gathering and it may again be coincidental but two women were at the forefront of the history-making press conference. Fiona Pargeter, heads of Global Communications at Jaguar Land Rover and Gabi Whitfield is in charge of Global Strategy.
The head of Jaguar Land Rover, Dr Ralph Speth, was earmarked to spend half an hour with the women motoring writers at the design centre in Coventry. He spent well over an hour, making his subsequent schedule run very behind time.
“Don’t stop what you are doing,” he told the women journalists. “If ever there is a time for women to be noticed in the car industry it is now and for the next decade.”
This enlightened attitude to women and cars isn’t universal however. One motoring writer from South Africa was told by a Mercedes representative in her country that the German company didn’t want their cars to be seen as “women’s cars”. It follows, then, that if a Mercedes wins the supreme award, the judges aren’t likely to be invited to hand over the trophy spoils.
All the women motoring writers on the jury panel have tales of a car company or two, or a male company representative or three or four, exhibiting a “disquiet” at women voicing an opinion on cars in public. In other words, publishing in whatever form.
But, Mercedes and other car companies, take note. The combined audience of the 26 motoring writers who are judges in Women’s World Car of the Year is around 50 million world-wide, if not more. Just saying.
Women making history in England, June 2017. It was the first time since the motor car was invented that eleven women motoring writers were assembled in the same place at the same time.