Meet Lexus’ first female chief engineer

If you like the revised CT 200h, you have her to thank (Credit: Lexus)
If you like the revised CT 200h, you have her to thank (Credit: Lexus)

With the facelifted Lexus CT 200h set to debut here soon, a surprising detail has emerged about the car. Its project chief is a lady.

Chika Kako is Lexus International’s first female chief engineer and took up responsibility for the revamped CT 200h in June last year.

Mind you, she’s no rookie—she’s been with Lexus brand owner Toyota since 1989 and from 2001 she assisted the chief engineers of Lexus’ RX and IS models.

She also worked on the LFA supercar, which she says is a career highlight.

"Psst, stop fooling around. Chika's watching..." (Credit: Lexus)
"Psst, stop fooling around. Chika's watching..." (Credit: Lexus)

When it comes to the CT 200h, Ms Kako certainly sounds the part of the chief engineer. “We wanted to have the best balance between ride comfort and dynamic performance,” she says. “It was also important to reduce CO2 emissions.”

To improve the handling of the hybrid hatchback, she made its body more rigid by adding new welding points, tweaking the suspension settings and revising the steering system for smoother feel and greater responsiveness. “I think we have succeeded in making the handling sportier, yet with a more comfortable ride,” she says.

Adjustments to the aerodynamics took care of the efficiency part, with CO2 emissions dropping to as little as 82 g/km on some versions of the car.

And lending weight to the idea that women are better listeners than men, Ms Kako says that she took customer feedback into account when planning the CT 200h facelift.

“Some customers commented about the noise made by the transmission,” she explains. “To solve this we defined the best balance between powertrain noise and vehicle speed to create a more linear feel when moving through the rev range.”

Elsewhere in the car, the revamp brings a raft of interior changes. “We took steps to improve visual refinement, which you can see in details such as the way leather is used around the gearshift and new trim details,” she says. “Making the cabin quieter adds to the perceived quality, along with a sportier exhaust note.”

Go on, ask her about her facelift (Credit: Lexus)
Go on, ask her about her facelift (Credit: Lexus)

“In all we made 94 separate changes to the car, which for a mid-life programme represents a huge effort,” says Ms Kako, which goes to show that not every woman dislikes talking openly about facelifts.

Lexus has a reputation for obsessive engineering, so it should come as no surprise that Ms Kako doesn’t seem to think about much else than her work. “For me, my biggest passion is to create a cool interior with innovative solutions and a warm atmosphere,” she says.

Spoken like a true chief engineer.