Need for 'car girls' at auto shows questioned

The tradition of using ”car girls” at auto shows appears to be on the wane in the era of the #MeToo movement.

An increasing number automakers are letting their car models stand on their own, rather than having scantily-clad females standing next to them to attract extra attention.

Several automotive executives at the Geneva Motor Show told the Associated Press that the image just isn’t a good fit for their brands, although not all of them have shied away from it.

The shift comes as another automotive arena, Formula One racing, has ended the practice of having so-called “grid girls” accompany drivers to their cars at the start of a race.

Susie Wolf, a former Formula One test driver who heads an initiative to get more women involved in motorsports, said in Geneva that “I don’t think we’ll be able to change the situation from one day to the next, but I think we’re making change in a positive way.”

"We never looked into optics, or whatever, when it comes to our presenters," said Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes. "Our customers coming here expect from us that we can properly explain what our product is all about. And that is for me the more important thing."

Johan van Zyl, the head of Toyota Motor Europe, said his company isn't using women models to shape the image of the vehicles.

"It is all about explaining the product," van Zyl said. "Of course, models can also be utilized, but we don't want to make a derogatory type of display of females. It is not our company value and it is not what we want to be: Totally against it."

Neither Toyota nor Rolls-Royce had models standing by the cars, though they did have assistants — both women and men — dressed in business-wear to provide information to visitors.

Silvia Blattner, a spokeswoman for the Palexpo convention center that hosts the auto show, declined to wade in on the issue, saying in an e-mail that the motor show is a "neutral" platform for carmakers, which are free to decide how to present themselves.

Still, change comes hard — and not all companies are on board. The Skoda display for its Vision X featured a visit from the 2011 Miss Czech, Jitka Novackova, posing for cameras in a short dress and black leather boots rising over the knee. Automakers like Alfa Romeo and Ssangyong, among others, trotted out models, too.

"If I'm honest, I can sense very little difference in the way the car companies are using the women on their stands. There are still women draped on cars as we walk around the show," said Jim Holder, editorial director of Autocar.

"Really, is that acceptable in the modern world as a way to present your company?"'

The Associated Press contributed to this report