PARIS -- Keno Kato, Nissan Motor Corp.'s global head of product planning and strategy, is a buzz-cut 1960s-muscle car fan from rural Japan. He follows NASCAR and might be spotted on any given morning cutting between cars in Yokohama traffic on a loud and in-your-face motorcycle. At the office, Kato, 48, directs a global team of 500 planners to translate future customer trends into product performance, appearance and technology. During this year's Paris auto show, he spoke with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell.
Q: I understand you started your career at a car dealership.
A: I did -- for two years, as part of my training. It was very hard to sell cars, but being at a dealership is the best field training.
My father was a salesman at a Nissan dealership in Japan, and when I was small, I used to go to work with him on the weekends. While he was with customers, I hung out with the mechanics in the service shop.
Were you a good salesman? Could you still sell me a car if you needed to?
Well, first I would have to grow my hair. This hairstyle is not allowed for salesmen in Japan. With my hair and my looks it would be impossible today. You have to have a good hairstyle and a happy face. That's the rule.
Tell me about your Hot Wheels collection.
Give me a number.
A thousand or something. I have a specially designed display case for them. I guess this is traditional boy behavior. Totally uncool for the ladies. But I only started collecting them about 10 years ago. When I was kid in Japan, they were too expensive. The yen was 360 to the dollar, and a dollar Hot Wheels car was crazy expensive in Japan. I was born in 1966, and I have a lot of 1967 models.
Meaning mostly Detroit cars.
Right. Muscle cars. Fords, Chevys, Dodges. This is sort of my secret hobby. In Nissan, people don't really know Big 3 cars.
What else do you collect?
Motorcycles. I have three of them. I commute to the office on a motorcycle. I recently restored a 1983 two-stroke Yamaha. It puts out massive amounts of white smoke. I drive to work putting white smoke all over everyone. Life is once.
Life is once?
Yes, I use that sentence on people sometimes in negotiations. Life is once.