Exclusive: Interview with Victoria Macmillan Bell, WWCotY judge
The Women’s World Car of the Year award has only been with us since 2009 and the group’s web site is a little light on what it hopes to achieve. Don’t both genders actually require similar things from their cars? Motor Writer has been in touch with Victoria Macmillan Bell, journalist, broadcaster, motoring enthusiast and one of the judges of WWCotY to find out a little more about the group and her thoughts on the new Fiesta.
It is easy to see the increasing role of the female buyer but how might the award actually change what manufacturers do? Victoria is very clear that it is only partly about the car; the greater concern is the way female buyers are engaged by dealerships, starting from the moment a lady steps into a showroom, right through to after-sales.
Victoria suggests open days where ladies are invited to dealership events, staffed by female employees: “I’m talking from design, engineering through to sales and marketing. Don’t talk at us, talk to us.” She highlights that there is still a stigma attached to the average showroom, where the car salesman asks if the husband is going to pay for the car or have the final say on specification. “That is so archaic and it shouldn’t still be happening, especially considering we are the growth market, gender-wise.” After-sales is a particular bugbear, it seems. “Once they’ve got your money, you’re out on your own and that absolutely needs to be addressed.”
She also emphasises the idea that women should also empower themselves by collating the data on the car and options they are interested in before they enter the showroom. This way they will be armed with the information “giving no room to anyone trying to propel them to look at a higher specification model or part with larger sums”. It should then be just a case of having a close inspection and test-drive of their chosen vehicles. We think this is sensible advice for everyone entering a dealership.
Of course the product has to be up-to-scratch, too. While key aspects such as price, running costs, economy are extremely important, so too are looks, safety and driveability. Victoria has also just taken delivery of a 2013-winning model Fiesta as a long-term test car and can’t help adding the odd petrol-head comment: “loves an apex!”. And yes it does – this little Ford is incredibly tidy through the bends, with great turn-in and a very composed manner.
Driving the face-lifted ‘Race Red’ Fiesta this week at Motor Writer has certainly been a pleasure, from the ease-of-use to the overall driving dynamics. Victoria agrees: “Ford has come such a long way with styling, build quality, brand image, performance and a host of other technical developments.” We like the clean shape and the simple, bold Aston Martin-style grill. Panel fit is good and the bits you hold all feel well made and durable.
The 1.0 litre EcoBoost engine is quite remarkable, putting out a healthy 125PS here but also managing to remain frugal. It has a gentle off-beat thrum with its three cylinders but it is quiet and engine vibration is minimal. It is highly boosted so can take a second-or-so to spool-up but power delivery is then smooth all the way to the red line. Where there is a small difference is in engine braking – there is virtually none. This is excellent for economy but it means this Fiesta does need an occasional extra tap on the brakes. Victoria is even more enthusiastic, calling the engine “mind-blowingly good” and also points-out the impressive fuel economy.
Inside, it’s smart and easy to use. The infotainment controls appear part ‘80s ghetto blaster, part spaceship but are intuitive all the same. The blue-and-white dials are both pleasing and clear. There are a couple of switches hidden behind the steering wheel but otherwise the layout is good. Victoria praised the supportive seats, high-end interior cabin and very good all-round visibility. She liked the storage space and access with the five-door model; we can vouch for the three-door version which has one of the simplest and easiest tip-slide seat mechanisms around.
Our high-end Titanium specification test car has an equipment list as long as one’s arm and I struggled to think of anything a driver would need which the car doesn’t already have fitted. Victoria noted the MyKEY option, allowing parents to set certain controls on the car via a master key and SYNC (Ford’s touch and voice control system) and cited this as being one of the deciding factors in the Fiesta receiving the crown this year.
I asked her what it is that women would want out of a car that wouldn’t just be sensible anyway? “Exactly, it is just common sense. We’re not so different but we care more about how we are addressed and dealt with in the approach to car sales and after-sales.” While there is still an acknowledgement that the different genders look for certain different things in cars, and that motoring is more likely to be a passion with blokes, when it comes to purchasing, the buying power of women is very evident and they want control over how their money is spent. Is there anything else Victoria wanted from the car itself? “We look at the environmental impact the manufacturing of a particular car has, plus how child-friendly it is if applicable and what’s available on the specification list that makes our lives as women, easier to manage.”
The wider WWCotY group also felt that the Fiesta represented a good financial proposition. With numerous dealers world-wide and reasonably inexpensive parts, looking after it won’t be difficult or too expensive. Further, Victoria did a little under-cover snooping at Ford showrooms and found they stood-up to her scrutiny. “I’ve been greeted warmly and fairly immediately after walking through the door, been offered coffee and a chance either to sit down or to wander round the cars without being followed about like prey.”
A growing voice
WWCotY hopes that this extra focus should bring benefits to the manufacturers and dealers too: “We hope that with our growing network of international judges and a growing voice representing the female car-buying public, manufacturers will sit up and listen to what we would like to see changed in order to make their books balance even better come April.” Wider than this, Victoria adds that there is a need to entice more females across the motoring industry. “We need women in design, in engineering and R & D, women who can make a difference to the process of the car purchase, to the experience as a whole and to see that the manufacturer really cares about this growth sector.”
Finally, Victoria suggests the car-buying public should be addressed by specific demographics rather than just en masse, and engaged locally via dealers. She suggests there would be additional benefit in female automotive industry employees joining female social networking groups for research and sales opportunities. “These networks are growing so fast around the world and are a perfect area for manufacturers to engage with.”
Quite frankly, I know enough men for whom cars merely represent mobile white goods. And whether you are a petrol-head or not, a little courtesy, transparency and efficiency during dealership transactions would benefit us all. If it takes WWCotY to achieve this, it should be supported.
The Fiesta itself is a great all-rounder and fully deserving of the 2013 WWCotY award. Any reason it might not make a Men’s World Car of the Year? I can’t fit my size-10 brogue past the clutch pedal to the foot rest. Otherwise, we can’t fault it.
Ford Fiesta ECOnetic 1.0 petrol £15,445. Power: 125PS, torque: 200 Nm, emissions: 99 g/km CO2 (band A), 0-62 mph: 9.4 secs.
Motor Writer rating: ●●●●●Tweet