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Kia treads into familiar, yet tough territory of female-specific cars

Kia Motors is set to launch its latest Smart Compact All New Morning lineup Tuesday, including a special model geared toward women -- a strategy that other automakers have tried in the past, and mostly failed.

Along with a sleek new design and smart technology upgrades, the new third generation line of its Morning compact car series will feature a brand new option -- the “Lady Edition.”

Targeted at Kia’s growing number of female consumers, the new Lady version is looking to unveil a vehicle that will “win over women’s hearts.” The upcoming lady Morning will feature the same exterior color palate and options of all the other models, but its interior and safety features will have a supposedly more female-oriented touch.

Exterior view of the Kia Smart Compact All New Morning, which will be available starting Jan. 17. (Hyundai Motor Group)
Exterior view of the Kia Smart Compact All New Morning, which will be available starting Jan. 17. (Hyundai Motor Group)
Features of the upcoming Smart Compact All New Morning’s “Lady Edition,” which includes larger head visor mirror with lighting, heated steering wheel, a sliding center console and autonomous emergency braking system. (Hyundai Motor Group)
Features of the upcoming Smart Compact All New Morning’s “Lady Edition,” which includes larger head visor mirror with lighting, heated steering wheel, a sliding center console and autonomous emergency braking system. (Hyundai Motor Group)

“Demand for first-time purchasers, second cars and family cars is steadily on the rise (in Korea) and there is a wide age distribution of customers purchasing compact cars, ranging from their 20s to 60s,” said a Hyundai Motor Group official to The Korea Herald.

“The special ‘Lady Edition’ will come equipped with a large size (sun visor) mirror with mood lighting on the driver’s side, as well as the world’s first compact car sliding consoles that can fit a wallet or makeup bag,” the Hyundai official added. “Opening the sun visor’s mirror cover, we hope the mood lighting will give off a powder room feel.”

The new Lady Edition will also be equipped with autonomous emergency braking, a first for a Korean compact car.

However, such cars have not historically been met with open arms. In the past, even the faintest notion of an automaker rolling out a feminine car proved to be a washout in other nations.

The global automobile industry has had its fair share of embarrassing attempts at grasping the attention of female consumers by launching specially designed women-friendly models.

In 1955, Chrysler attempted to capture women’s hearts with its Dodge La Femme. The car was glammed up with a two-tone pink and white exterior and even came with a pink calfskin purse that matched the car’s interior.

The attempt by Dodge was not only met with little financial success, but also outrage by many of its target audience, leading the car company to give up on the concept car in 1957 after just two years.

Promotional image for the Ford Windstar Solutions minivan in 2000. (Ford Motor Company)
Promotional image for the Ford Windstar Solutions minivan in 2000. (Ford Motor Company)

In 2000, Ford collaborated with American home and commercial appliance company Maytag to produce the Maytag Windstar minivan. Geared toward the all-American “soccer mom,” the vehicle’s rear hatchback came equipped with a compact washer-dryer, refrigerator, microwave and vacuum cleaner. The Ford-Maytag baby was a commercial flop.

More than a decade later, Japanese auto giant Honda decided to take a stab at the Asian female market niche in Japan, releasing the Honda Fit She’s in 2012. At that time, the automaker was the only company that had a vehicle sold exclusively for women in the market.

However, despite its pink exterior and “Plasmacluster” skincare-friendly climate control system, the vehicle was short lived.

In spite all the attempts, the car market still seems to be searching for the most effective approach when it comes to targeting females in the heavily male-marketed automotive industry.

The new Mii by Cosmopolitan by Spanish car manufacturer SEAT. (SEAT)
The new Mii by Cosmopolitan by Spanish car manufacturer SEAT. (SEAT)

Last September, Spanish automaker SEAT teamed up with major fashion magazine Cosmopolitan and released its new feminized Mii car, under the notion, “No one knows women better than Cosmopolitan.” The purple compact car had jewel-effect rims, a handbag hook and even eyeliner-inspired headlights.

Two years in the making with the guidance of the so-called female-demographic experts at Cosmo, the car’s launch was met with strong backlash from women who branded the product sexist.

Following the overwhelming social media outrage, a SEAT spokesperson issued an apology and went on to clarify that the Mii is “not a car intended entirely for a female audience,” rather for the “Cosmo reader.”

Undiscouraged by the failed attempts of rival automakers, Hyundai Motor Group said it expected the Morning’s new Lady Edition to be popular among women car buyers, who make up 45 percent of the company’s customers, because it will feature safety and design features that have already proven popular with its female customer base.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)
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