Motive, means, and opportunity.
At this year’s North American International Auto Show, Lexus drove two cars onto the stage as CEO and Master Test Driver Akio Toyoda gave a passionate speech about his burning desire to make the Lexus brand desirable and seductive. While Lexus sales struggled along with the economy, they have rebounded almost as well as their German rivals in North America, so it’s not strictly necessary for them to reinvent the brand as Acura, Lincoln and Infiniti seem to every few years. No, this is a legacy play. Toyoda wants to stamp his legacy on the Lexus brand and make it every bit the revered marque as the Germans. Just as Audi created a car worthy of posters on an adolescent’s wall, yet still attainable in the luxury coupe market as in the R8, Lexus has followed the LFA supercar with a car that will be accessible to far more customers, yet radiates exclusivity and lust, and will stand out from the crowd with its looks.
This project didn’t just show up overnight, however. Four years prior, behind closed doors at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours D’elegance, Akio Toyoda met with some leading automotive journalists, and had something of a power-focus-group session about the Lexus brand and identity. The words “boring” and “bland” inflicted a painful realization, driven home no doubt by Lexus’s worst sales year in at least a decade in 2011 while Mercedes-Benz and BMW were rebounding nicely, both eclipsing Lexus in US sales. Then at the 2012 Detroit show, Lexus presented a daring LF-LC coupe concept, a design exercise that had journalists and showgoers drooling and applauding, but which Lexus had no intention of producing. Toyoda went home with a determination to change perception of the Lexus brand, and the concept to effect that reinvention.
We spoke with Koji Sato, Lexus Chief Engineer, about how the LC 500 had the potential to elevate the Lexus brand: “Creating the LF-LC into a production car has big meaning for the Lexus brand. After Pebble Beach 2011, Akio Toyoda believes that Lexus needs some changes. We wanted to move the brand in a more emotional direction. That’s the background on our feelings and the atmosphere of the whole team at Lexus. Therefore, we decided that we want to realize the LF-LC into production as a production car.”
Sato was tasked with delivering not just a production car loosely based or inspired by this concept, but essentially engineering this concept as a road-going vehicle. His reaction: “It’s a very tough job. We know the LF-LC… it’s fantastic. I like the car… so I think that one is really nice for me. I want to make it real. But on the other hand, it’s very difficult.”
Difficult indeed. To achieve this true-to-concept production version of the LF-LC, Lexus pioneered a new approach of “heightened collaboration” between design and engineering teams during the development process, and we were lucky enough to speak to Lead Designer Tadao Mori at the same time, both of whom share a refined design sensibility, naming the Toyota 2000GT and early Ferraris (Sato the Dino 246 and Mori the 250 GT SWB) as personal design favourites. What rolled out on stage in Detroit was a fairly definitive proof of concept.