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Culture

Female Fahrvergnügen

Members in the German Women's Automobile Club enjoy sitting behind the wheel just as much as men. But when it comes to a car's performance, they would rather take a drive than get their hands dirty fixing the motor.

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No back-seat driver required

When Germany's automobile club for women was founded back in May 1926 with seven members, cars were still something of a rarity on German streets. The site of a woman behind the wheel was virtually unheard of -- let alone the notion of a lady actually taking an avid interest in the motorized vehicles.

But the founding mothers of DDAC were not discouraged. Just two years after establishing the club, the motoring women organized their first long-distance race from Berlin to Oberhof, in southern Germany. The competition lasted two days and covered a stretch of 750 kilometers (466 miles).

Today, that hardly seems much of a challenge, but more than 70 years ago, just arriving at the finish line was a real accomplishment. More often than not, a car ended up in a ditch alongside the potholed roads. Back then the women had to rely a lot more on sheer strength and driving dexterity: there was no power steering, no four-wheel drive, no suspension system to assist the early women drivers.

Since then, cars have developed by leaps and bounds in terms of technology and safety. But the members of DDAC haven't lost interest in the main focus of their club: driving for fun and leisure.

Driving for fun

"We drive normal cars," Christa Reiners, head of the DDAC branch in Rheinland-Ruhr in western Germany, told DW-WORLD. "From the compact class to the large family car, everything has a place in our group."

Generation Europa Made in Germany 22.04.2004

Women drivers are no longer a rarity

Whereas their male counterparts frequently spend a good bit of time tuning up their motors and outfitting their cars with the latest in computer-assisted technology, the members of DDAC rarely pick up a wrench. Instead, safety is their top priority.

"It is especially important that our vehicles are in excellent working condition," Reiners said, describing the DDAC's inclinations, which don't differ that much from the interests and concerns of the average woman driver. "Complicated repairs are dealt with at the mechanic's workshop."

As a result, greasy hands and overalls are less common than extended car tours across the country. Christa Reiners said the relationship between the club's members and their automobiles is "rather playful," but nonetheless demanding.

"In keeping with the tradition of our club, we aren't primarily interested in speeding, but rather in performing difficult orientation exercises or tests of skill," she said.

Taking women drivers seriously

The way women think about cars isn't just visible on the road. When faced with purchasing a new vehicle, many of their specific interests play a key role in decision-making. However, a recent marketing study by the Vocational College of Niederrhein showed that woman often feel they are not taken seriously in the sales room. "Women are frequently insecure when they buy a car and they reveal that weakness to the salesperson," said Doris Kortus-Schultes. The professor and author of the study examined the buying habits and interests of more than 1,200 women drivers, including car experts, senior citizens and immigrants.

According to the study, which the German Women's Automobile Club supported, female drivers don't necessarily want to see more saleswomen in the showroom, but they do want to see more emphasis placed on honesty, respect, trustworthiness and understanding when it comes to selling a car. Even after the purchase, the women interviewed said they would like to have easy-to-read instruction manuals and a personal explanation and demonstration of a car's features.

Perhaps if female drivers are taken more seriously both on and off the road, the number of women who take an interest in their cars beyond the simple transportation aspect will also grow.

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