It was inevitable. Some car manufacturer somewhere would unveil a ‘car for women’, claiming that they had developed the perfect accessory on wheels for the modern woman.

The SEAT Mii by Cosmopolitan caused a storm when it was revealed last month at a launch event in London. Critics took to Twitter and hijacked the hashtag used to promote the event to denounce the diminutive city car as sexist and regressive. The car even reached the attention of comedian Ellen DeGeneres. What had SEAT and Cosmopolitan done to provoke such outrage?

Co-developed between SEAT and the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan, the ‘SEAT Mii by Cosmopolitan’ is a special edition of SEAT’s Mii city car, and according to the press release, it’s a car that ‘understands the feminine side and lifestyle of the fun and fearless COSMO girl’. Available in ‘Candy White’ or ‘Violetta’ (purple), the Mii by Cosmopolitan has such feminine features as door mirrors finished in champagne coloured paint, jewelled bi-colour alloys, and headlights with an ‘eyeliner’ shape. It’s described as agile, exciting to drive, and of course it’s ‘easy to park’.

What SEAT and Cosmopolitan failed to understand when trying to develop a car that would embody the spirit of the woman they so wished to reach was that their ‘fun and fearless’ woman wants to live in a world where she is not defined by her gender. And that sort of makes the SEAT Mii by Cosmopolitan, or any other attempt at sugar coating a car so that it’s a perfect fit for a woman, pretty much redundant.

These bumbling, awkward attempts to create a ‘woman’s car’ are not uncommon as the motor industry clambers around desperately trying to attract the pink euro. It’s as if the motor industry’s executives try to create a profile of the modern woman, but miss the diversity of women by several yards, instead confusing her with an eight year old girl who enjoys Barbie-themed birthday parties and face glitter.

In response to the backlash, SEAT released a statement defending the car and backtracking on who the car was aimed at. “Mii by Cosmopolitan is not a car intended entirely for a female audience. It is the result of a two year long process of co-creation involving Cosmopolitan readers, editors and the magazine’s creative team, aimed at developing a model that responds to a very specific target, the Cosmo reader, and in no way to women as a whole.” Such a statement is hardly complimentary to the Cosmopolitan reader either.

SEAT Mii by Cosmopolitan
The SEAT Mii by Cosmopolitan

This is not SEAT’s first attempt at aggressively targeting the female market with a car. In 2014, the brand teamed up with Spanish fashion retailer Mango to create the ‘Mii by Mango’, a chic black and cream affair that came with a practical hook to hang a handbag, and a mirror in the driver’s sun visor (hint: to check your make-up).

SEAT are not alone in their attempts to woo the ladies with soft colour palettes and lipstick holders. Other car manufacturers have also gone down the route of creating a novelty car for women. In the motor industry’s mind there is just one type of woman and she is invariably fashion savvy and beauty obsessed.

For example, Citroen created a special edition of their DS 3 supermini with Benefit Cosmetics in 2014 and have recently teamed up with Givenchy to launch the DS 3 Givenchy Le MakeUp, which comes with a bespoke Givenchy Le MakeUp kit stored in a special compartment in the driver’s armrest, a feature which is bound to raise a few eyebrows.

A few years ago, Honda released a ‘Fit She’s’ for the Japanese market based on the Jazz hatchback. Developed for women, it was predictably finished in pink and came with UV light blocking glass to protect women’s delicate complexions, and a special climate control system that could allegedly improve skin quality.

Even as early as the 1950s, Chrysler had a go at marketing towards women and launched the Dodge LaFemme. It had a two tone pink and white paint finish, special storage places for a hat and purse, and a swivel seat to help the woman to get out of the car in a skirt and preserve her modesty.

While we can reassure ourselves that the world is a more progressive and equal place for women than it was in the 1950s, there’s something troubling about the fact that the motor industry is still using a variation of the same lousy techniques to market cars to women in 2016.

Yet rather than being a conscious effort to patronise women as the online critics will attest, there may be nothing more sinister here than a car manufacturer trying to make a splash in a noisy world where it’s getting ever more difficult for brands to reach their market. If that’s the case, then SEAT, in the midst of a maelstrom of online vitriol, have actually had a major PR win.

Women purchased 64% of all small, urban cars like the Mii in Europe in 2015 and SEAT are citing this as a reason for developing the Mii by Cosmopolitan.

But SEAT already sell a standard version of the Mii. It’s the same size, and has the same engines and gearbox as this special edition, but does without the flick of eyeliner.

The Mii by Cosmopolitan is little more than a gimmick to gain notoriety as a brand among Cosmopolitan’s female audience, in the same way collaborations with women’s fashion retailers and make-up brands expose carmakers to an audience they may find difficult to reach by conventional means.

This collaboration between SEAT and Cosmopolitan may not have won either of the brands any new fans but in terms of creating awareness around a new product launch? Job done.

Caroline Kidd