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Lexus LF-LC concept (Toyota/Toyota)
Lexus LF-LC concept (Toyota/Toyota)

No more bland for the Lexus brand as auto maker aims for excitement Add to ...

The LF-LC concept car is a metaphor for what Toyota Motor would like Lexus to be, says Toyota/Lexus Canada spokesperson Sandy Di Felice. Really?

Lexus has spent the last 20 years building a brand that stood for the relentless pursuit of perfection. Lexus charged premium prices by building near-faultless cars and selling them in dealerships where customers were well-treated. Lexus was true to their tagline: “The relentless pursuit of perfection.”

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Then the competition caught up to Lexus on quality. After ruling J.D. Power and Associates’ long-term Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) for something like a decade – the evidence suggested that Lexus came as close to perfection as any auto maker, ever – Lexus lost the VDS title in 2010. True, Lexus reclaimed No. 1 in dependability in 2011 and 2012, but the damage was done. If Lexus could lose the VDS crown once, it could happen again.

At about the time the Lexus claim on near-perfection was being brought into question, Toyota Motor also got a new CEO – family scion Akio Toyoda, who considers himself a passionate car guy, not the overseer of a car company notable first and foremost for quality and dependability and all the manufacturing expertise that you could expect from a former loom company.

Toyoda, who really does know his way around a race track, is surely behind the current remake of Lexus. That effort is, in the words of Di Felice, “epitomized by the Lexus LF-LC – the sleek hybrid two-plus-two luxury sport coupe design concept we unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year.”

Toyota is now engineering a top-to-bottom makeover at its luxury brand. The goal is to become much more than the maker of faultless cars with fairly bland styling. Di Felice and her colleagues around the world are now touting the future of Lexus as a brand selling “bold, emotional and expressive” vehicles with cutting-edge technology. We are to assume that the quality piece is a given, and will not be sacrificed on the altar of stylish sheet metal and cool gizmos.

If Lexus manages to morph the brand as planned, it will be one of the greatest automotive business stories of all time. Essentially, Toyota is reinventing Lexus on the fly, hoping to stanch sliding sales with new models that take their inspiration from the Lexus LF-LC coupe.

A new development in that story is this: Automotive News is reporting that Lexus insiders say the 2+2 LF-LC will “almost certainly” come to dealer showrooms, perhaps within three years or less. The idea is to position the production version of the LF-LC as a rival to the Porsche 911 Turbo and Aston Martin Vantage, adds the trade publication. That means a sticker price in the $150,000 range.

Lexus certainly needs an exciting addition to its lineup, and while the limited-production LFA supercar is certainly a thrill to drive, it has missed the mark as a halo car for a simple reason: only 500 were planned for the world. An LF-LC sold in greater numbers would help, certainly, but a higher-volume coupe/convertible to compete against the Porsche Boxster and upcoming Jaguar F-Type would be even better.

The bigger question is, can Lexus produce cars that trigger wild emotions in buyers and the public at large not because they almost never break, but because they are wild and daring and bold and emotionally compelling in ways that make no logical sense at all? To put it another way, a Lexus has always been the kind of car you marry; but if it’s a Vegas fling you’re on, you’d drive something else.

Car company marketing types love to talk about brand DNA to explain their products. Frankly, it just doesn’t seem to be in the Lexus DNA to produce the kind of emotionally compelling cars the company is aiming for. Of course, I’ve been wrong before.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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