Ford addresses women's issues

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Motoring may still be a man's world, but a new generation of designers are determined to strike a blow for women on the road.

After last month's launch of the "women-friendly" Jaguar XK8, with a handbrake designed not to tangle with skirts, it has been revealed that Ford are developing a concept car with accelerator pedals specially angled so a driver in high heels can put her foot down.

Ford Motors denies leaked reports that the vehicle, code-named Ka, had been designed exclusively for women by female engineers, but admits that some of the features are aimed at addressing women's needs. Last year, nearly half of the 2 million cars sold in Britain were chosen and bought by women and manufacturers are keen to corner the expanding market.

The Ka does not go as far as the XK8, which has special door alcoves to prevent women breaking their nails, but it is believed to contain innovations including a radio shaped for women's smaller hands and a lower boot, so it is easier to lift heavy objects in and out.

Other special features leaked from Ford's high security design centre in Dunton, Essex, include new controls to help smaller women adjust their seat and a dashboard designed so that shorter arms can reach air vents and the glove compartment without having to stretch.

"We haven't designed a car just for women, because that would be a very foolish marketing strategy," said a Ford spokesman. "But we are aware that some cars are not as suited to women as they could be and we want to make sure our cars are as suitable for women as they are for men. The Fiesta, for example, sells very well to women, but it is not a `women's car'."

The car's name comes from Egyptian mythology, in which Ka was a spirit "supposedly dwelling as a vital force in a man or statue". The current model is a `study vehicle' to be "modified after a period of consultation with customers". It is due to be launched later this year.