Japan

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.”

Comments
Kako-san's promotion is certainly a notable milestone in Toyota and Lexus history, and the Automotive News article by Hans Greimel from August 2014 that is linked from Krew's original article post above is definitely a worthwhile read. A few months before that (on March 2014, to be precise), I wrote my own Chika Kako article for Kaizen Factor. Here's the link:

http://kaizen-factor.com/chika-kako-toyotas-lexus-first-ever-female-chief-engineer/
We will see what will happen
Nice (and responsible) position for her.
http://www.autonews.com/article/20180215/OEM02/180219823/toyota-woman-executive-promoted
Toyota promotes female executive to top management level

TOKYO -- Chika Kako is a rarity in Toyota Motor Corp.’s upper echelons.

Last month, the 50-year-old was promoted to the No. 2 job at the luxury Lexus division, becoming the only woman among the automaker’s top 53 managers. President Akio Toyoda has made diversifying his executive lineup a priority, but while six foreigners have risen to the company’s highest ranks, the elevation of women has been slower.

“To be honest, I never really thought about approaching my work from the point of view of being a woman,” said Kako, who Toyota made available for a group interview at its main Nagoya office after an annual round table event to introduce new executives. “My mission has always been to just speak my mind.”

Even with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” push, Japan hasn’t made much progress at getting women into positions of power. The auto industry, in particular, remains a man’s world. Nissan Motor Co. leads the pack in terms of gender equality, with women making up more than 10 percent of its domestic managers. At Toyota, fewer than 2 percent of the company’s 9,977 managers are women.

“Kako-san is a role model,” said Tatsuo Yoshida, an auto analyst at Sawakami Asset Management Inc. in Tokyo. “There are a lot of young women engineers in the company who can look at her career path and say, ‘I want to be like her.’”

Toyota’s diversity push suffered a setback in 2015 when its then-highest-ranking female executive, head of communications Julie Hamp, was forced to resign after she violated Japan’s drug laws by illegally importing painkillers. Hamp was hired away from PepsiCo Inc. in 2012.

Corporate ladder

Kako is the first woman to reach the rank of managing officer by climbing the corporate ladder inside Toyota. She joined in 1989, the same year the automaker made women eligible for career-track jobs.

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.”

One thing that hasn’t changed in the almost 30 years since Kako started at Toyota: she’s still single.

“I just didn’t have a chance to get married,” she said. “Maybe in the future, why not? I don’t think it’s good to just focus just on your job and not have any experience outside work.”
Lexus faces challenges in how to adapt to the industry trend toward electrification.
The challenges are no different for Lexus than they are for its competitors. And these challenges are only financial (how to make a profitable dedicated electric car without losing money in the short term?).

Lexus also must sharpen its brand identity. 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.
Too much marketing talk, no substance. Replace "Lexus" by any other brand name, and the "experience" is exactly the same. How can it be different?

We need a broad vision for Lexus.
After the LFA, the IS-F and the Spindle Grill, everything indicated Lexus had a vision. What happened with that vision? Did is already fade? A 10 year vision is a short-sighted vision.

We want to be a distinctive brand.
I would say that Lexus is a distinctive brand. But how does is want to be distinguished? This goes back to the previous comment about "experience", it is all too vague. What precise distinction? What exact experience?

Audi, BMW and Mercedes all claim to be distinctive and offer a different experience, but I do not see any. Take a look at the latest (or up-coming) RS6, M5 and E AMG: they all have a turbocharged 4.0l V8, AWD and automatic transmission (no more dual-clutch that was so heavily marketed as sportier/faster/better). Which one would I take? I could just roll a dice.

Trying to cover everything is not our style.
Not covering something that should be covered is bad style.
Levi
After the LFA, the IS-F and the Spindle Grill, everything indicated Lexus had a vision. What happened with that vision? Did is already fade? A 10 year vision is a short-sighted vision.
My reading is that she's referring to the "lifestyle experience" crap there, and not as much to the cars themselves.

Regarding the challenges of electrification, they exist only to the extent that Toyota/Lexus hung on to their (admittedly class-leading) Hybrid Synergy Drive parallel hybrid system a little too long. In 2003 the fact that you could still drive a Prius like normal if all the newfangled electrical gear and computers and stuff died or glitched out was a major selling point. In the post-Tesla, post-Leaf, post-Bolt, and post-i8 world it's not. Time to move the motors out to the wheels like Tesla and everyone else and just have the ICE charge the battery at a constant, fuel-optimized RPM. Then you're ready to go full BEV by just removing the ICE and boosting the battery capacity.

I
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