But things have begun to change after some sales statistics last year showed that more women in the US were buying cars than men.

Cash-strapped industrialists are realising that women might be better at making the cars we want to drive and buy.

Lena Ekelund, deputy technical project manager at Volvo, believes the market is ready for a big change.

"Women want all the stuff the guys want and then some. They've got a longer shopping list basically," she said.

Concept cars

Far from being the old boxy carry-all associated with the Swedish car-maker's past, the YCC (Your Concept Car), presented at the international show opening on Thursday, is a sporty coupe with swoops and curves.
  
And since the project was run by an all-woman team of executives, designers and engineers - believed to be a first in the motor industry - it is practical and easy to drive as well, claims the firm.
  
The car was modelled around a fictitious, independent female professional called E.
  
"We caught her at a moment in her life where she had one specific day, a good hair day," Ekelund explained. "Everything we put in the car has been against that reference; does she need it, will it enhance her life? If not, it did not come into this vehicle."
  
That means being able to see the corners of the car when you park, coordinated seat, wheel and pedal adjustment, while the handbag has a place out of sight but within reach.
  
What women want

Swappable seat covers add a splash of colour - and cleanability - in a bright interior, and the design was modified to make it easier to step, rather than clamber, in and out. 
  

Renault's concept car - with the
bonnet free of models

"It has automatic door opening. You just approach the car and they will open, so you don't have to put your bags on the ground," technical manager Elna Holmberg pointed out.
  
"The car has easy-clean paint, it's like a non-stick frying pan so dirt doesn't cling to the car."
  
"To fill up your (windscreen) washer fluid you don't need to lift a two square metre lid first then a little one. So why not have it on the outside?" Ekelund chimed in.  

Serious economics

Women traditionally had little input into what cars should be like apart from the occasional marketing clinic.
  
But the glass ceiling is giving way, albeit slowly. The proportion of senior women executives at US-led multinationals Ford and General Motors edged above 10% in 2000.

Engineer Cristina Siletto led the development of Fiat's small people carrier through to its launch last year, while French designer Anne Asensio is a senior executive heading brand design at giant General Motors.

Women are also a growing body of buyers - 54% of them in the United States for Volvo - which the industry desperately needs to woo.

This may explain why dream cars have taken a back seat to useful gadgets at the Geneva show.