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Japanese car makers hire more female executives

Nissan Motor President Carlos Ghosn
Nissan Motor President Carlos Ghosn
Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images

Not only does it seem that women now spend nearly half their lives in cars, whether driving to work, ferrying the kids around and running other errands, etc., they "control 65% of global spending. This includes making the final decision on more than 60% of new-car purchases," commented Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn during a news conference last month. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the major auto manufacturers are finally beginning to recognize their importance from the corporate side, not just as consumers.

While most people are now well aware of the fact that GM is headed by a woman, Mary Barra, many would be surprised to learn that Toyota actually appointed its first female chief engineer, Chika Kako, back in 2012. Kako, 47, is now top boss for the Lexus CT hatchback. And while people still ask her when she is going to get married, her rise through the company’s ranks underscores a dramatic change in Japan’s mental attitude toward women in recent years, even if only 101 females (out of 9,458) of Toyota’s managerial positions are held by women. However, Toyota has stated that it plans to “increase the number of women managers to 320 by 2020 and 570 by 2030.”

On the other hand, in 2009 Nissan appointed its first woman, Mie Minakuchi, as chief product specialist, responsible for overseeing every aspect of the Nissan Note compact, from design and marketing to manufacturing and equipment back in 2009. She was later succeeded by another woman chief product specialist, Sachiko Aoki, when the next-generation Note debuted in 2012.

"What women are looking for in a car is very different," Ghosn added. “Women zero in on vehicle attributes such as seating position, quality of materials, functionality and safety, not such specs as horsepower and displacement. If you don't pay attention to those features, you end up having a customer base which is mainly male. That is why it is important to have female designers, female marketers, female engineers who understand and truly pay attention to women’s wants and needs.”