Automotive Women: The Unsung Heroes of Transportation

automotive women at work

They account for more autos sold annually than men and influence the majority of car purchases. So… why is it that less than 16 percent of car industry professionals are female? Oh, sure, you go to your local motor vehicle department and the people behind the counter are mostly women or you go to a car dealership and the receptionist and title clerks are predominantly ladies, but when it comes to the board of directors, the actual power and decision makers in positions of leadership, even designers and builders, the dudes rule. Automotive women are such an anomaly, being picked up by one in ride-hailing is even met with surprise. What’s the deal?

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re featuring the unsung heroes of transportation — automotive women.

The dawning of the age of women mechanics

female mechanic at work, one of many automotive women

Many women worry they will be or are being taken advantage of by the guys who work on their automobiles and often fear garages. Consequently, this is leading women to become mechanics themselves. In the UK alone, these automotive women have jumped by 125 percent, now making up a little over 10 percent of the folks working on your car in that country.

In the U.S., where the ratio of men to women service technicians is a whopping 98.6 percent, more and more female-owned shops are opening up such as Patrice Banks’ Girls Auto Clinic in Upper Darby, PA, and Heidi Derhy’s Signal Auto Garage in St. Paul, MN. Yes, they’re still rare, but no matter how much advice women get on how to prepare for a trip to the shop, being met by someone who may not judge you for or take advantage of your gender is a pleasant alternative as well as empowering women and challenging gender roles.

Perhaps the bravest venture into the auto shop world is Shadi Mohammed in Sulaimani, Iraq. In 2017, the former civil servant and mom taught herself how to fix cars to combat economic downturn and opened a repair shop run and operated by women, the first one ever with the first ever female mechanics in the male-dominated country. This pioneer and her crew put up with a steady stream of male customers coming into the shop simply to gawk at them, absolutely no government support — but also, interestingly enough, no resistance — and not one ounce of outside financial or business support. All of Shadi’s mechanics know their stuff and take a lot of deep breaths while dealing with the backlash and harassment, slowly changing minds and building the business.

The automotive women behind the men at dealerships

automotive women conferring

You go into a dealership to buy a vehicle and more than likely a male salesperson talks cars with you, takes you for the test drive, makes the sale. No surprise. Then you sit with a male finance person — probably — to work out your deal only to get the keys to your car from the dealer guy again and drive off the lot. Oh, sure, you may have been greeted by a female receptionist and you notice a few automotive women here and there behind desks doing something or other you have no visibility to, but whatever.

While men make up 78.2 percent of the auto dealers in the U.S. and 76.5 in Canada, women influence 85 percent of all motor vehicle purchases, buy 60 percent of the new and over half of the used cars around the world. That being said, a breakdown of professions by gender shows that although you’re seeing men front of house when you buy an automobile or working on it when you bring it in for your regularly scheduled tune-up, the back of the house compliance work is mostly done by the automotive women.

Percentage of Back Office Jobs Filled by Women

percentage of automotive women

Granted, these stats are broken out across a variety of industries, but you get the point. These are the people who see to it that you get your registration, that the fees posted by the dealership are correctly and promptly submitted to the public offices that govern motor vehicles, that the paperwork is in good working order before it even goes to those offices; and they’re the ones who keep on top of all the regulations placed upon automobile dealerships so they are always compliant. The Title & Reg Clerks are the behind-the-scenes automotive women you may see, but never really deal with. They keep that place running like the well-oiled machine it needs to be to stay in business and they make sure you get what you need so you’ll keep coming back to buy more of what they’re selling.

Dealing with the offices that regulate vehicles is an intricate, ever-changing process. New laws, rules, legislation, addendums… you name it, they’re constantly being updated, revised, deleted, and on and on. Staying up to date with all of that is part of the job of these behind-the-scenes women and helping them do that as well as making sure the paperwork they’re submitting is correct before it goes out is supported by a predominantly female crew: Auditors, Customer Support and registration professional trainers.

The teachers, the helpers, the “got your back”-ers

automotive women in Agoura Hills

Located in an office building at the far west corner of California’s San Fernando Valley are several automotive women. A group audits the deals for car sellers to ensure their paperwork is correct before submission to California DMV. Another takes calls from dealers to assist them with questions, software issues, electronic licensing & titling problems. And still, another — Registration Management Professionals (RMP) — strategizes and prepares workshops for industry professionals by coordinating trainers and schedules at various locations throughout the country. These RMP trainers then teach title & reg clerks and F&I personnel at dealerships and Credit Union staff about the constantly changing rules/laws/regulations/processes of the different motor vehicle departments in each of their areas.

The years of combined experience of all of the automotive women in this corporate office — which actually breaks convention with some in leadership positions as high up as Vice President — plus the local experts in the company’s different locations around the U.S. is mindboggling. Every day, these women step up, help out, train, support then move back into the shadows, reworking curriculums, taking calls at home and in line at the grocery store, traveling to small towns and large dealerships to make sure the automotive engine of progress seamlessly moves forward.

In the end…

To date, there is only one woman who is heading a major automaker — Mary Barra of GM. The number of female motor vehicle executives, engineers, auto design, race car drivers, and in manufacturing positions is minimal at best, and making it through the ranks to become an automotive woman in the upper echelon of a notoriously male business is virtually impossible…

VIRTUALLY, but not completely. It has been, is and will continue being done.

We wonder, however — if it’s women who influence the automobile industry from the outside, what is it that keeps them from controlling decisions on the inside? Is it the lack of interest in STEM subjects for female elementary school students through to higher education? Would scholarships in those areas make more young women sit up and notice? Does the male-dominated vehicle world seem too out of reach for many women? Do they not want to get their hands dirty or work in an industry that obviously prefers men? Or is it that the opportunities that ARE there remain lower-echelon without a clear path to growth?

We don’t know the answers. Really. And there are a lot more questions that the lack of representation and scarcity of female leaders in the automobile industry pose. What we do know is automotive women are out there, making a difference every single day for the advancement of women in car companies and the auto industry in general, and their presence is slowly but surely growing.

Yes, today’s date is March 8th and, sure, the calendar tells us it’s International Women’s Day, and, okay, there are celebrations honoring the female gender for the next 24 hours. But tomorrow, women will wake up and continue pushing the needle a little bit further — they’ll keep impacting the world on into infinity. Because as Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

Here’s to the doers. Today and every day.

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AutoMobility LA 2017: Vehicle Upstarts (Day 4)

Part Four of our four-part series recapping the summit’s four days of exhibits, announcements and interactivity

vehicle upstarts are center stage in Day 4

Day 4 of AutoMobility features alternatives to the car

As AutoMobility LA ended, the Los Angeles Auto Show prepared to begin. With that transition came some interesting vehicle upstarts — smaller car maker reveals and first time exhibitors, most of whom offered alternative fuels, specialty automobiles and various takes on the electric bicycle. It also brought about the last of the big car company announcements and a chance for summit attendees to browse the various exhibits at their leisure.

One of the iconic vehicle upstarts kicks off the green revolution

one of the iconic vehicle upstarts shows off alt fuel

Toyota’s Tri-Gen facility overview and hydrogen burning semi

The first of the vehicle upstarts was one of the largest automakers — Toyota. The Japanese car company was the featured vehicle maker of the last morning of AutoMobility LA and presented its innovative future vision in a big way. Toyota has made no secret about its belief that hydrogen fuel cell technology is the wave of the future. They recently deployed a fully functional Class A semi-truck that towed 80,000 pounds of freight only powered by hydrogen, which has just started being used throughout the Los Angeles area. The legendary company proved it maintains its position as one of the most storied vehicle upstarts with the announcement. It also enhanced to its role as an innovator with alternative fuels by revealing it is also opening a new facility in Long Beach, California, called Tri-Gen, which will be the first megawatt sized carbon fuel-cell power generation plant with hydrogen fuel in the world. It will use California agricultural waste, hydrogen and water to generate electricity. It will be able to generate enough power to light up 350 average sized homes and renew the fuel cells of 1500 vehicles.

This announcement was soon followed by the awarding of the 2018 Green Car of the Year sponsored by Green Car Journal. The finalists were:

  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Clarity
  • Hyundai Ioniq
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Toyota Camry

The Honda Clarity — arriving at dealerships nationwide on December 1st — earned the top spot. Other awards for 2018 Green SUV of the Year, 2018 Green Connected Car of the Year and 2018 Green Luxury Car of the Year will be announced at the Washington Auto Show in January.

Nissan channels the Force

vehicle upstarts like Nissan create experiences

Imperial Storm Troopers guard Nissan’s reveal

Another of the iconic vehicle upstarts, Nissan, expanded on its relationship with the galaxy far, far away. Although the auto giant announced its partnership with the Star Wars franchise the day before, this was a day when the carmaker was able to share more about the collaboration. With the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi releasing in theaters on December 15th, Nissan has committed to creating immersive experiences of VR and AR in various dealerships around the country that take customers into the Star Wars universe while in the showroom. To heighten this, the company brought out stormtroopers and a souped up Nissan Titan that incorporated the features of the Imperial Walkers.

vehicle upstarts go all in for effect

Nissan Titan gets an Imperial walker makeover

The new guard, customization and retro cool

the vehicle upstarts show off their wares

The final day of the summit included smaller vehicle companies presenting unique options in the automotive and transportation space. These intriguing vehicle upstarts included:

  • Reds from Redspace, a fully electric prototype built to deal with the issues of the Megacities of China like
  • Polaris Slingshot, which introduced a new class of vehicle called the autocycle that offers all the benefits of a motorcycle without requiring a motorcycle license and was demo’d by NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace
  • Saleen, a boutique carmaker with 30 years under his belt introducing two new high-powered, luxury class sports cars
  • Sondors, an electric 3-seater inspired by a walk along the beach to be offered at a cost of only $10,000 and in the midst of seeking funding through crowdsourcing
  • Ampere, the 2-seater electric vehicle going for $9,900
  • Electric bicycles/scooters ranging from foldable (URB-E) to sleek (Propella) to retro-styling (Phantom Bikes)

It was also a time to indulge in a walk through The Garage, a place to show off all things customized and aftermarket, and the Galpin Auto Sports’ exhibit promoting its customization prowess. These two areas were a reminder of the power of the car and how much it still energizes, inspires and draws us.

vehicle upstarts keep customization alive

Galpin Auto Works and The Garage show off customization

vehicle upstarts pump up nostalgia

A tricked-out Mach IV from Galpin Auto Works

The last day was a seamless melding of the old and the new, proof that being one of the vehicle upstarts is more the rule than the exception as all were reminded of the auto revolution that’s no longer coming, but here. Even as things move forward, those things that are held dear by the old guard are influencing the new, and are finding ways to utilize the world of autonomy and alternative fuels to their benefit rather than let it throw them off their games.

A bridge from the past to the future

the old and the new of vehicle upstarts

Clockwise from top left: Camaro Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Exhibit; Subaru 50th Anniversary timeline; Honda NeuV concept – utilizes AI and the “emotion engine” to detect and learn from drivers’ emotions and past decisions to suggest reactions to road conditions; Toyota 2018 FV2 concept — like the Honda NeuV, uses AI to detect driver’s emotions and assist in reactions based on past operator performance

AutoMobility made it clear that the goal in automotive revolution is not just to prepare us all for the inevitability of pure autonomous driving, hydrogen/electric cars, and fleets of rideshares that make our own vehicles obsolete. It also acknowledges that the love of the automobile as we know it is not only not going away anytime soon, but could very well keep growing.

the old guard proving they're still vehicle upstarts

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivan — America’s first; Volkswagen Buzz concept

Such stalwarts as the Chrysler Pacifica mini-van entering the 21st century by offering the first hybrid in its class for 2018, and the Volkswagen Buzz, an electric microbus version of the beloved VW Minibus slated for a 2022 release, prove that this bridging of yesterday and today are taking place to exciting results. The car appears to be here to stay, and AutoMobility LA shows that by embracing the revolution at hand and the unique players who are entering it as never before, the auto industry has an opportunity to become much stronger in the long run.


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