Two Interviews with New Lexus International Executive Vice President Chika Kako

Lexus Executive Vice President Chika Kako

There are two new interviews with new Lexus International executive vice-president Chika Kako that shine a light on her plans for the brand — first, from Hans Greimel at *Automotive News*:

She is the only woman in Toyota’s top echelon of managers and the first to climb to managing officer from inside the company, rather than joining at the level from outside.

As the luxury brand’s No. 2 boss, she says Lexus faces challenges in how to adapt to the industry trend toward electrification. At the same time, Lexus also must sharpen its brand identity, she said. Lexus must figure out how to position itself as a lifestyle brand that sells “experiences,” rather than just as a manufacturer selling cars.

“People’s focus is moving from things to experiences,” Kako said.

There is an inherent conflict with an automotive brand transitioning from selling cars to providing experiences, as Lexus remains a company that must continue to “move metal” regardless of marketing.

However, the transformation of Lexus into a lifestyle brand reflects a long-term vision of the automotive industry — it’s not hard to imagine a time when electrification and autonomous technology create an environment where the extraneous elements of an automaker are just as important as the vehicle itself.

Moving on, the folks at Bloomberg also spoke to EVP Kako:

After a stint in Belgium, where she worked on refining vehicle interiors, Kako became Toyota’s first female chief engineer. Her first assignment, in 2013, was overseeing a refresh of the Lexus CT hybrid hatchback.

Now she’s the second-in-command for the entire Lexus division, an important business that’s lost a step lately. Lexus hasn’t led luxury car sales in the U.S. since 2010 and last year the brand slipped below the industry average in a closely watched study of new-car quality by J.D. Power. This week, Lexus notched a victory by scoring No. 1 in the researcher’s survey of long-term dependability for the seventh consecutive year.

“We need a broad vision for Lexus,” Kako said. “We want to be a distinctive brand. Trying to cover everything is not our style.”