TOKYO -- To understand the special needs of drivers and passengers in Tokyo, Chrysler turned to a Japanese woman on its California design staff.
"Tokyo driving is hectic," says Chrysler designer Akino Tsuchiya. "I wanted to design a car that people could use on the weekend to relax."
The Akino compact concept car includes many features to soothe a harried Tokyoite. It has bamboo flooring, a sofa-like rear seat and arm rests attached to the seat, so the uncluttered door panel resembles a wall.
Think car as living room. It is a theme that Nissan Motor Co. and other Japanese carmakers have explored at the Tokyo Motor Show in recent years.
But the Akino debuted as a Chrysler at this year's show.
Tsuchiya, 37, is one of eight designers at the DaimlerChrysler Pacifica Advanced Product Design Center in Carlsbad, Calif. Born in Japan, she joined Chrysler Corp. in 1996 after getting a degree in transportation design from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.
She had not planned on a career in auto design. Before attending Art Center College, she earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from Rikkyo University in Tokyo.
"I took some art classes for fun," she says, "where I found my passion for art and design."
Since joining Chrysler, Tsuchiya has worked on several concept cars. She helped design the interior of the Chrysler Citadel and the exteriors of the Dodge Razor and Kahuna.
The Akino, named for her, is the first car on which she took the lead.
The idea for the Akino struck Tsuchiya "a couple of years ago." Chrysler began work on it last January.
The concept car is far from production-ready. It was designed to use a hybrid powerplant. Therefore, the show car lacks an engine. Some of the interior materials probably are not sufficiently wear-resistant for production use, Tsuchiya admits.
Still, if gasoline moves above $3 a gallon and stays there, more Americans may move to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
Says Tsuchiya: "I think this car would sell."
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