Lexus is considering a hybrid powertrain option for the production version of the Lexus " />

Issue: Nov 2003


Asia Report



The Pursuit of Higher Sales

New Lexus managing officer is on a mission to grow Lexus in the European and Japanese markets.







 
Lexus is considering a hybrid powertrain option for the production version of the Lexus LF-X concept, shown here at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show.
Lexus is considering a hybrid powertrain option for the production version of the Lexus LF-X concept, shown here at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show.

As Toyota prepares to introduce Lexus in Japan, the company has installed one of its best and brightest to head a new organization dedicated to the premium brand.

Takeshi Yoshida, 54-year-old chief engineer of the 2000 Corolla program, joined a newly formed Lexus Development Center in June as managing officer, a new executive position one step below the board.

His responsibilities include planning, engineering and evaluation of all future Lexus models. His mission: to grow Toyotas luxury car business in Japan, where European makes currently have the dominant share, and eventually establish Lexus as a global brand (something it is not today) by boosting sales in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in Asia.

Worldwide, Toyota sold 287,500 Lexus vehicles last year (nearly 24,000 per month). Of these, 234,200 were in the U.S., more than 10 times European sales which totaled just 20,300. The company hopes to boost the European total to 50,000 by 2008 while breaking the stranglehold Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi have on the market.

The first new Lexus model is scheduled to hit Japanese showrooms in August 2005. Although Yoshida declined to discuss future product plans, industry analysts expect the operation to start with four models the Celsior, Altezza, Windom and Harrier (sold overseas as the LS430, IS300, ES300 and RX330). A version of the LF-S, a concept sedan unveiled at this years Tokyo Motor Show, is expected to debut in North America and Europe where it will be priced between $50,000 and $70,000.

Below are excerpts of an interview with Yoshida at Toyota headquarters:

Q: Will there be any changes in Lexus brand philosophy?
A: The pursuit of perfection, the brands original philosophy, will remain unchanged.

Q: How do you intend to boost Lexus presence in Europe where sales are onetenth U.S. levels?
A:
It has only been 14 years since we introduced the LS400. Compared to our main European competitors, BMW, Mercedes and Audi, this is an extremely short history. That said, I believe this could work to our advantage as there tends to be a fixed expectation and image about their cars. I believe we are freer to introduce new concepts and ideas.

Q: So, how do you intend to differentiate Lexus from European luxury brands?
A: Without going into great detail, we would like to use our DNA of being a Japanese manufacturer. We want to offer customers something that can be made only in Japan, something that reflects the sensitivity of Japanese culture.

As an example, if one stays at a Japanese inn there is a distinctively different atmosphere than at a modern, Western hotel. That is the sort of contrast we hope to achieve for if we dont succeed in drawing such distinctions, our vehicles will not stand out from (those of) the Europeans. My task, quite simply, is to make Lexus successful in Europe and Asia as well as in North America.

Q: How do you intend to differentiate Lexus from the Toyota brand?
A: Naturally, we want to extend distinctions between the two brands. At the same time, we do not want to separate everything. The Toyota brand has many strengths, especially in the component field. It just is not practical or feasible to make all Lexus components for all Lexus models unique. Still, as we have broadened our lineup beyond the LS and ES series, it is necessary for us to sharpen our focus. [The new Lexus Development Center, which employs five chief engineers, plans to build cars on four platforms including a luxury sedan like the current LS430 model.]

Q: What is your technology strategy?
A: Surely, we will try to introduce our most advanced technologies. So in that sense, Lexus will come first (ahead of Toyota).

Q: Does that include hybrids?
A:
Hybrids are one of Toyotas core strengths. I would prefer not to comment beyond that. Others in the Lexus Development Center confirmed that the automaker is considering its hybrid technology for both the LF-S and LF-X, concept cars at last months Tokyo Motor Show.

This article was provided exclusively to Automotive Industries by JREPORTS, a new information service offering in-depth coverage of automotive technology based in Tokyo. For additional information about this and other studies and prices, contact JRepts@aol.com.

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