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The Lexus NX Sport ‘is our new face,’ says Alain Uyttenhoven.Toyota

The head of Toyota Motor's Lexus brand in Europe has conceded the global luxury crown to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, while also confessing that Lexus "didn't always have a consistent identity, but now we do."

Alain Uyttenhoven told that it is "impossible to catch the German three, worldwide." Lexus, however, is determined to be "number four." Number four? True confessions are almost never this titillating.

But Uyttenhoven is developing a track record for sharing honest insights. He recently told Automotive News that Lexus is aiming to be seen as a green, technology-driven alternative to the German trio. He used the phrase "progressive luxury" while describing the typical Lexus buyer.

The "luxury" piece is obvious: a stand-out automobile, from design to technology to quality. "Progressive," however, "comprises two elements. First, rewarding yourself rather than showing off to the outside world. Second, rich people – sometimes extremely rich people – care about the planet. These people are eco-minded," he said.

Uyttenhoven's comments echo those made earlier this year by Lexus Canada chief Cyril Dimitris, who dismissed the idea of overtaking the Germans, that being No. 1 by sales is unlikely. "We're not pursuing that," he said.

Instead, Lexus is aiming "to create emotion around the product," pushing for "edgier" advertising with a focus on craftsmanship and design. The angular NX crossover is the poster child here. It's a "polarizing" design that helps Lexus stand out.

The truth is, Lexus isn't anywhere close to the Germany three by sales. Last year, Lexus delivered a brand record high of 523,000, while BMW sold a record 1.66 million cars in 2013. Audi was behind BMW by 79,600 cars and Mercedes-Benz had the No. 3 spot, behind by 193,500. All three are on track for record sales in 2014.

In Canada, Lexus sales in 2013 were up 5.6 per cent to 15,949, far behind Mercedes-Benz (34,781), BMW (31,710) and Audi (20,506). Lexus Canada sales are up 9.1 per cent so far this year.

If Lexus is aiming to build a reputation for authenticity, and for presenting a progressive face to the world, then a good place to start is with leadership that is honest with the brand's goals. Kudos to Uyttenhoven here.

"We are looking for people who start new trends," said Uyttenhoven, referring to potential buyers. "We want to be the outsider and the NX is our new face. You will see polarizing design from Lexus in coming years."

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