TOKYO -- Honda needed a woman in its Life - and getting one made all the difference for the little Japan minicar.
A few feminine touches on the 660cc economy car, courtesy of Yasuko Matsuyama have perked up sales since the car was redesigned last September.
The new Life has lured Japanese women into showrooms with its bright interior and vivid new body colors. Sales in the first half of 2004 rose 37 percent from a year earlier to about 87,000 - nearly one-quarter of Honda's total sales in Japan.
Things might not have gone so well without Matsuyama. The 34-year-old former English major at Tokyo Woman's Christian University, was one of three project leaders for the car. At Honda, three representatives - one each from sales, product development and manufacturing - make up a vehicle project team. Matsuyama was the first female member of one of the teams.
She helped freshen the Life by giving it a bright beige interior and an instrument panel with knobs and switches that are easier to use. She also helped create three exterior colors, giving Life customers 12 options.
"The project gave me a sense of a big achievement," says Matsuyama.
Now other Honda women are following Matsuyama's footsteps into key car development jobs. Four women from the sales department are working on car projects.
"She cracked an area of operations that had been led by men," says a former colleague, who declined to be named.