In the wake of the #MeToo movement’s explosion and growing awareness about sexual harassment, some vehicle executives have been taking a new look at the traditional use of often scantily-clad women on display stands at car shows.
Some companies say a cultural shift is in the air, although a walk through this year’s Geneva car show suggests the industry still actively associates its products with female sensuality, and uses models to leverage that.
“I don’t think we will be able to change the situation from one day to the next,” said Susie Wolff, former development driver for the Williams racing team in Formula One, which has recently decided to stop using models at the start of competitions.
Wolff, who was at the show to promote an initiative to get more women involved in motorsports, doesn’t like the idea of women standing by merely to be objectified.
Leggy and heavily made-up models still adorn the stands at the Geneva show, though there seems to be a bit less skin on show than in previous years.
“Our customers expect that we can properly explain what our product is all about,” said Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes. “That is the important thing.”
Johan van Zyl, the head of Toyota Motor Europe, said his company wasn't using women models to shape the image of the vehicles.
“It is all about explaining the product,” Van Zyl said.
“Of course, models can be utilised, but we don’t want to make a derogatory type of display of females.
"It is not our company value and it is not what we want to be: totally against it.”
Neither Toyota nor Rolls-Royce had models standing by the cars, though they did have assistants - women and men - dressed in business-wear to provide information to visitors.
Still, change comes hard - and not all companies are on board. The Skoda display for its Vision X featured a visit from the 2011 Miss Czech, Jitka Novackova, posing for cameras in a short dress and black leather boots rising over the knee. Car makers like Alfa Romeo and Ssangyong, among others, trotted out models, too.
“I sense very little difference in the way car companies are using the women on their stands. There are still women draped on cars as we walk around the show,” said Jim Holder, editorial director of Autocar.
“Really, is that acceptable in the modern world as a way to present your company?”
- AP/African News Agency (ANA)