The interior of a car is like the housing market in a desirable neighbourhood. In the development phase of a model, the best locations are highly coveted. And the prime location in the interior is the place between the cockpit and the centre console – with ample space, within easy reach for driver and front passenger. “The perfect place for the storage compartment for sunglasses,” found the eight women of the “Women Perspective Panel” (WPP). They had just spent a day in Rodgau-Dudenhofen scrutinising the Astra L and its competitors to come up with suggestions for improving the successor to the compact model from Rüsselsheim.
Astra chief engineer Mariella Vogler still remembers her spontaneous reaction to the proposal: “Whether it’s air conditioning/heating, electronics, infotainment or hardware –
every department wants to be there. And you want a compartment there to store your sunglasses – in a prime location? That will be difficult!” To cut a long story short: today, three years later, that is exactly where the sunglasses compartment is in the new Astra – additionally flocked, with a cover flap, a rich click can be heard when it is opened.
“Our female colleagues had analysed the situation pragmatically and at some point we also asked ourselves: ‚Why not?’” recalls Mariella Vogler. And that’s exactly what she appreciates about the WPP, which has been an integral part of the development of new models for three years: “The suggestions are pragmatic, unbiased. All of the panel’s input and ideas have made the Astra even more desirable – for all customers. Not just women.”
A “Women Perspective Panel” is set up specifically to incorporate the needs, expectations and wishes of women into the development of a vehicle. For every new model. With female colleagues who contribute as many perspectives and life experiences as possible. “We have female colleagues in the team from IT, from finance – most of us had no idea how a car is developed before,” says Marina Hettich, head of the Astra WPP. She herself usually simulates production processes in Stellantis‘ European engine and transmission plants: So, what machines and resources are used to keep production running at its best? How must the material flow be organised?
– Marina Hettich –
“In no other industry will you find such complexity, with such exciting challenges.”
“It is fascinating to constantly perfect the individual cogs of production – recently also for battery production,” says the 30-year-old. For the industrial engineer specialised in mechanical engineering, it was clear early on that she would end up in the automotive industry: “Components are delivered just-in-time, robots produce car bodies, finished cars come off the assembly line at the end – where else can you find such complexity that brings such exciting challenges?” When she heard about the opportunity to get involved in a WPP, she was immediately on board.
The meeting in Rodgau-Dudenhofen was three years ago. The WWP colleagues had drawn up a list with a total of ten proposals for the new Astra. Again and again, the team was involved during the various development phases, witnessed important milestones and decisions. There were suggestions on the list that were quickly implemented, like a frameless rear-view mirror that is now on board in higher trim lines. Other processes, such as the choice of seat covers, went through many iterations: “We are very, very happy with the result. Even though we found it hard to part with the white seat covers – they looked fantastic. But white seat covers? It wasn’t just the dog owners among us who vetoed that,” recalls the panel leader.
When it came to piano lacquer in the cockpit, two camps formed: “Some love it, for others it’s a showcase for fingerprints and dust,” Marina Hettich outlines the initial situation. In the end, a balanced compromise united both parties: clear lacquer is used, but in a reduced form and in places that are not often touched. The mechanical engineer was particularly impressed by a customer clinic in Cologne two years ago. “It was a big taste test where five potential designs of the Astra were shown to a test audience,” she recalls. Like the women on the panel, the test audience opted for the crisp, sporty version. The women also intensively accompanied the development of the handle on the boot lid, tested variants and contributed their assessments. The same applies to the development of the boot.
“Developing a car
is an amazingly creative process.”
The industrial engineer was impressed by the appreciative, good atmosphere: “On the one hand, there are strict processes, figures and KPIs, but on the other hand it is also an amazingly creative process that can only be mastered with good teamwork. We were able to witness how the Astra was created with great attention to detail. I’m sure the customers will love the new Astra.” Thanks in part to WPP’s contribution: not only do the customers have a shelf for sunglasses in a prime spot, but all the other suggestions the women made have also been realised. And Marina Hettich has not had enough yet. In the meantime, she is involved in the next panel for another Opel model – in order to introduce female input there as well.