A friend sent me a link to a story about some unique market research taking place in the auto industry. The article was written by Kate McCloud and appeared in the East Bay Times. McCloud is also affiliated with GirlDriverUSA.
“Think of it as the woman’s revenge, or a great learning experience: General Motors had its male engineers run around the Milford Proving Grounds in skirts, heels, pocketbooks and fake fingernails,” the article starts. “No, they weren’t getting ready for a drag competition. They were learning what some women go through when they deal with automobiles.”
The story describes the event as the brainchild of Mary Sipes, one of several women who reached the upper levels of GM management. She came up with the idea a few years ago that transformed the way GM designs SUV.
“When these current SUVs were in development, Sipes took the future, full-line SUV team out to the proving grounds to do vehicle testing. They expected the usual driving exercises, but she had another idea. On the way she stopped at a shoe store to buy several pairs of size 12 high heels.
“The men were then required to go through what women do routinely every day. They had to put the baby in a car seat and buckle them in, fold up the stroller, pull up the liftgate and stow the stroller, put grocery bags in the back. They then had to walk around the vehicle and step into it not using the running board.
“Wearing the gloves with press-on nails they had to operate the key fob, adjust the radio and then figure out what to do with their purses — without breaking or losing a nail. Lost or broken fingernails or torn garbage bag skirts resulted in points against the final score.”
It was a brilliant strategy because now the vehicles are much better designed for use by women. And it worked. According to an AP story published Sept. 6, 41 percent of luxury vehicles sold so far this year were bought by women, up from 37 percent five years ago.
So, why doesn’t the RV industry do the same type of thing? It is a well-known joke that people who design RVs never use them.
Some may object to that statement — strenuously — but how else can you explain the stupidity of putting the bathroom at the top of the stairs of a fifth wheel, behind a door that can’t be opened when the slideout is in?
Or stapling instead of screwing the bottoms of pantry drawers so they can’t hold the weight of anything other than a bag of extra large marshmallows as the RV bounces down the road?
Or installing outlets intended to power gadgets laid on counters or tables, but won’t allow power cords to reach those gadgets when the slides are extended?
Or putting the water inlet connection an arm’s length inside a compartment that can only be reached by someone on his or her knees trying not to bump the opened compartment door overhead?
Experienced RVers go through new RVs at shows just scratching their heads wondering what blend of cannabis the designers were smoking when they dreamed up a layout that looked nice on paper, but in reality was full of quirks.
Over the years, I’ve heard of a few manufacturers brave enough to bring in an RVer to do a walk through on a new unit that just came off the assembly line in order to flag problems in usability. But, the RV makers discontinued the practice because the RVers were finding fault with too many things.
It’s a great idea, but the testing was done too late in the process. Rather than having sales managers walk through prototype units making suggestions based on what they think an RV owner would want to see in a motorhome or towable, that’s when RV manufacturers should bring in experienced RV owners to seek their input.
Another dirty little secret in the RV industry is that most marketing is targeted toward men, but it’s women who are the final decision makers as to where the family’s vacation dollars will be invested. So, yes, flashy bling works in attracting attention, but poor layout and features prevents families from raving about their RVs after they’ve used them.
It might be a good idea for RV manufacturers to really get inside the minds of RV owners by actually using RVs to learn for themselves what is truly a useful and appreciated feature, and what is simply wasteful bling.
Check out East Bay Times story “Today’s GM trucks are designed by men in skirts.”