Car industry needs more female designers

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LONDON (CNNMoney) — The mastermind behind one of the world’s most distinctive SUV brands says gender imbalance is hurting the automotive industry.

Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern, who works on the luxury brand’s newest models, said the industry needs more women.

“I think for a long time we’ve suffered [from] not having enough automotive female designers,” he said.

According to EY, women comprise only a quarter of the auto industry workforce. But they influence almost 80% of decisions to buy a car, according to market research firm Frost & Sullivan.

“In a lot of respects it’s the women that are making the decisions about the vehicles,” McGovern said. “We’ve got to get their inputs.”

He said women have different priorities to men when purchasing cars, which may be underrepresented when cars are designed.

Olivia Walker, principle consultant for Frost & Sullivan, said that interior design was the biggest area of dissatisfaction among female car buyers.

She said her research found most women were unhappy with visibility, entertainment controls and storage space, adding that “it just makes sense” to employ women who understand the behavior of consumers.

That’s why McGovern wants more women in the industry. “I’m doing as much as I can to encourage female designers in our business,” he said.

Functionality vs design

McGovern heads a team of 500, who work on new models for the Land Rover brand, which is owned by Jaguar Land Rover, itself a subsidiary of India’s Tata Motors.

While cars need to be functional, McGovern says their design also needs to have an emotional impact.

“When somebody gets into one of our cars I want them to feel special,” McGovern said. “I want them to have that sense of elevation — they get in, they start it up and they feel good.”

His biggest hit has been the Range Rover Evoque — half a million have been sold since its launch in 2011, making it the best selling model in Land Rover’s history.

But design wasn’t McGovern’s first love — originally, he wanted to become a painter. “But then I realized there’s not much money in painting until you’re dead,” he joked.

Now, his ultimate goal is to increase the small British brand’s market share and continue to innovate.

“Part of my job is to look at the landscape,” he said. “What are the opportunities to create things that don’t exist at the moment?”