As any reader of Sociological Images can tell you, humans can apply gender norms to almost anything. This includes cars. Above are pictures of the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle and the previous model (ironically called the “New Beetle” – “New” has been dropped from the name as of the 2012 model). The car on the right was a sales smash upon release in 1998 but sold just over 16,000 copies in 2010. Despite the fact that the car has remained basically unchanged for twelve model years (most models have five- or six-year replacement cycles), in developing and revealing its replacement, Volkswagen focused on the car’s image problem. The New Beetle, with its round body and details like a flower vase on the dash, was seen as feminine or, in the words of one automotive blog, a “chick car.”
In itself, the fact that a feminized product was refreshed to appear more masculine is nothing new (in fact, Sociological Images wrote about the new Beetle over five months ago). An aspect of the story that I thought was interesting, though, is what sales look like for a feminized car. This LA Times article from June of 2010 revealed that about 56% of New Beetles sold were registered to women. Fifty six percent! Car sales are apparently like presidential elections, in which 56% is a landslide victory. This number apparently doesn’t reflect how feminized 56% is, though, since women account for only 36% of new car registrations. It is also possible that some of the cars that are registered by men are driven by women. Still, it would be nice to live in a place where women accounting for just over half of something’s sales did not make that product feminized. I suppose that there is a bright side, though, in that up to 44% of men who bought a New Beetle did not let ridiculous gender norms affect their decision.