How Lexus went from boring to bold

Posted on Oct 10, 2017 by

“I’m not interested in turning the car into a soulless commodity” — boss Akio Toyoda, speaking at a shareholders’ summit in the US

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The beige jokes don’t cut it any more, because even if you’re not a fan of ’ recent design evolution culminating in The Predator grille (over in Toyota City at the design studio they prefer to call it the spindle grille), you can’t help but notice it.

That was the whole point. It wasn’t that long ago when Lexus was still peddling barely disguised Toyota Avalons, and then suddenly we heard a shrill. It was the LFA supercar with a banshee V10, and something started changing.

“Part of our transformation was the creation of the LFA, a 550 horsepower supercar that became the DNA for a new generation of Lexus vehicles,” Toyota president Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company founder, said in Texas this week, speaking at a shareholders’ summit.

The timing was spot on, as this life-long car enthusiast slash race driver slash auto executive got his seat on the top floor in Toyota City in 2009, just in time to see the Lexus LFA roll out. He was also just in time to see there was still a lot left to do.   

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“Just another boring Lexus…” – reaction to the the 2011 GS spurred Toyoda to action

“So when I became president,” Toyoda said, “I remember being on stage in 2011 revealing a brand new GS to a group of journalist, and I couldn’t wait for their reaction. ‘This is just another boring Lexus,’ they said.”

“Seriously, I couldn’t believe it… But you know what, I took another look at that GS. In fact I took another look at all our cars, both Toyota and Lexus, and I said, ‘They are right.’ I was determined that the word boring and the word Lexus would never be used in the same sentence again.”

Today there is no LFA any more to hold up the brand, but that’s partly because the brand doesn’t need no piggy back rides on the back of a halo vehicle. The new LC Coupe is the car turning heads nowadays, whether they’re heads nodding in approval or shaking. And that car was only made possible with the LFA taking those first tentative steps into wild design.

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The Lexus LFA was the brand’s first ever supercar

Toyoda went on: “Lexus will always remain a ‘challenger’ brand, but I can assure you, it will never be boring. So, as a big believer in new technology, you might be surprised to know that I was not all that interested in autonomous cars at first. In fact to me they sounded boring, which as you already know is a word I hate.”

He explained his mind has been changed on the autonomous subject though, with the advancement in technologies including batteries and connectivity, and that above all the aspect of safety drives the Toyota group’s pursuit of vehicle autonomy. And safety, Toyoda believes, has nothing to do with boring.

“I’m not interested in turning the car into a soulless commodity,” he said.

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