Women Get Feet in the Door of the Car Design Boys’ Club

Women Get Feet in the Door of the Car Design Boys’ Club

By contrast, Jo Lewis at McLaren works just minutes away from her employer’s production line. “We’re very hands-on,” said Ms. Lewis, who leads the British automaker’s nine-member C.M.F. team. “I’m down there at least once a day.”

Since many of the company’s cars are built on a bespoke basis, those visits are often made to ensure compliance with a particular customer’s wishes. Interacting with car buyers and suppliers is a favorite part of her job, said Ms. Lewis, who was named to Autocar magazine’s list of “Great British Women in the Car Industry” last year.

“I’m always thinking of ways to reduce weight,” added Ms. Lewis, 35, who concentrated on materials and processes in her postgraduate work at London’s Royal College of Art.

For example, the choice of paint cut nine pounds from the Senna, her company’s newest hand-built supercar. Ms. Lewis’s search for lighter finishes was part of a McLaren initiative that chased every gram of savings — even the choice of bolts.

Some believe the natural evolution of automobiles will spur greater demand for female designers. For much of the last century, vehicle design largely focused on an auto’s exterior, said Raphael Zammit, who heads the graduate program at the College for Creative Studies.

“You didn’t want to get stuck doing interiors and door handles,” he said.

However, as automobiles became more mechanically refined — and as safety requirements imposed greater conformity on exterior designs — interiors grew in importance. With the advent of self-driving autos and an anticipated decline in privately owned cars, that can only continue, Mr. Zammit said. Vehicles, he said, “will become more like homes or offices.”

“For a car guy,” Mr. Snyder said, “an automobile just needs to be low, wide and fast. But think of the range of experiences autonomous vehicles will bring. They’ll require more attention to all five senses — and a more sensitive approach to design.”

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