Lexus is the luxury vehicle division of Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corporation. First introduced in 1989 in the United States, Lexus is now sold globally and has become Japan’s largest-selling make of premium cars. The Lexus marque is marketed in over 70 countries and territories worldwide, and has ranked among the ten largest Japanese global brands in market value. Lexus is headquartered in Nagoya, Japan. Operational centers are located in Brussels, Belgium, andTorrance, California, United States.
Lexus originated from a clandestine flagship sedan project, code-named F1, which began in 1983 and culminated in the launch of the original Lexus LS in 1989. Subsequently, the division added sedan, coupé, convertible, and SUV models. In 2005, a hybrid version of the RX crossover debuted, and additional hybrid models later joined the division’s lineup. In 2007, Lexus launched its own F marque performance division with the debut of the IS F sport sedan, followed by the LFA supercar in 2009.
From the start of production, Lexus vehicles have been produced in Japan, with manufacturing centered in the Chūbu and Kyūshū regions, and in particular at Toyota‘s Tahara, Aichi, Chūbu and Miyata, Fukuoka, Kyūshū plants. Assembly of the first Lexus built outside the country, the Ontario, Canada-produced RX 330, began in 2003. Following a corporate reorganization from 2001 to 2005, Lexus also operates its own design, engineering, and manufacturing centers, solely responsible for the division’s vehicles.
Since the 2000s, Lexus has increased sales outside its largest market in the United States through an ongoing global expansion. The division inaugurated dealerships in Japan’s domestic market in 2005, becoming the first Japanese premium car marque to launch in its country of origin. Further debuts in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and other export regions have since followed. The division’s lineup has also been expanded to reflect regional specifications in model and powertrainconfigurations
In 1983, Toyota chairman Eiji Toyoda summoned a secret meeting of company executives, to whom he posed the question, “Can we create a luxury vehicle to challenge the world’s best?” This question prompted Toyota to embark on a top-secret project, code-named F1 (“Flagship One”).The F1 project, whose finished product was ultimately the Lexus LS 400, aimed to develop a flagship sedan that would expand Toyota’s product line, giving it a foothold in the premium segment and offering both longtime and new customers an upmarket product. The F1 project followed the success of the Toyota Supra sports car and the premium Toyota Cressida models. Both the Supra and Cressida were rear-wheel drive cars with a powerful 7M-GE/7M-GTE inline-six engine. The largest sedan Toyota built at the time was the limited-production, 1960s-vintage Toyota Century, its domestic flagship and sole V8-powered model, followed by the inline-six-engined Toyota Crown premium sedan. The Century was conservatively styled for the Japanese market, and along with the Crown not slated for export. F1 designers targeted their new sedan at international markets and began development on a new V8 engine.
The opportunity for Japanese manufacturers to export more expensive models had grown in the 1980s due to voluntary export restraints, negotiated by the Japanese government and U.S. trade representatives, restricting mainstream car sales. In 1986, Honda launched its Acura marque in the U.S., influencing Toyota’s plans for a luxury division; the initial Acura model was an export version of the Honda Legend, itself launched in Japan in 1985 as a rival to the Toyota Crown, Nissan Cedric/Gloria and Mazda Luce. In 1987, Nissan unveiled its plans for a premium brand,Infiniti, and revised its flagship Nissan President sedan in standard wheelbase form for export as the Infiniti Q45, which it launched in 1990. In 1988, Mazda began selling the Luce as the Mazda 929 in North America, and later began plans to develop an upscale marque, to be calledAmati, but its plans did not come to fruition.
Toyota researchers visited the U.S. in May 1985 to conduct focus groups and market research on luxury consumers. During that time, several F1 designers rented a home in Laguna Beach, California to observe the lifestyles and tastes of American upper class consumers. Meanwhile, F1 engineering teams conducted prototype testing on locations ranging from the German autobahn to U.S. roads. Toyota’s market research concluded that a separate brand and sales channel were needed to present its new flagship sedan, and plans were made to develop a new network of dealerships in the U.S. market.
In 1986, Toyota’s longtime advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi formed a specialized unit, Team One, to handle marketing for the new premium brand. Image consulting firm Lippincott & Margulies was hired to develop a list of 219 prospective names; Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis were chosen as top candidates. While Alexis quickly became the front runner, concerns were raised that the name applied to people more than cars (being associated with the Alexis Carrington character on the popular 1980s primetime drama Dynasty), and as a result the first letter was removed and the “i” replaced with a “u” to morph the name to Lexus.
The etymology of the Lexus name has been attributed to the combination of the words “luxury” and “elegance,” and another theory claims it is an acronym for “luxury exports to the U.S.” According to Team One interviews, the brand name has no specific meaning and simply denotes a luxurious and technological image. Just prior to the release of the first vehicles, database service LexisNexis obtained a temporary injunction forbidding the name Lexus from being used as they stated it might cause confusion. The injunction threatened to delay the division’s launch and marketing efforts. Upon reflection, a U.S. appeals court lifted the injunction, deciding that there was little likelihood of confusion between the two products.
The original Lexus slogan, developed after Team One representatives visited Lexus designers in Japan and noted an obsessive attention to detail, became “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.“ The Lexus logo was developed by Molly Designs and Hunter Communications. The final design for the Lexus logo featured a stylized “L” within an oval, and according to Toyota, was rendered using a precise mathematical formula. The first teaser ads featuring the Lexus name and logo, designed by Team One, appeared at the Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York auto shows in 1988.
In 1989, after an extended development process involving 60 designers, 24 engineering teams, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 220 support workers, around 450 prototypes, and over US$1 billion in costs, the F1 project was completed. The resulting flagship, the Lexus LS 400, had a unique design that shared no major elements with previous Toyota vehicles, with a new 4.0 L V8 gasoline engine and rear-wheel drive. The LS 400 debuted in January 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and officially went on sale the following September at a network of 81 new Lexus dealerships across the U.S. The LS 400 was sold along with a smaller sibling, the Toyota Camry-based ES 250. The launch of Lexus was heralded by a multimillion dollar advertising campaign in both television and print media.
At its debut, the LS 400 was widely praised for its quietness, well-appointed and ergonomic interior, engine performance, build quality, aerodynamics, fuel economy, and value, although it was criticized by some automobile columnists for derivative styling and a suspension regarded as too compromising of handling for ride comfort. The LS 400 debuted at US$38,000 in the U.S. (in some markets, it was priced against mid-size six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz and BMW models)and was rated by Car and Driver magazine as better than both the US$63,000 Mercedes-Benz 420 SEL and the US$55,000 BMW 735i in terms of ride, handling, and performance. The LS 400 also won major motoring awards from publications including Automobile Magazine and Wheels Magazine. Despite being an upstart, Lexus established instant customer loyalty and its debut was generally regarded as a major shock to the pedigree luxury marques. BMW’s and Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. sales figures dropped 29% and 19%, respectively, with BMW executives accusing Lexus of dumping in that market, while 35% of Lexus buyers traded in a Lincoln or Cadillac to make their purchase.
In December 1989, Lexus initiated a voluntary recall of all 8,000 LS 400s sold to date, based upon two customer complaints over defective wiring and an overheated brake light. In a sweeping 20-day operation which replaced the parts on all affected vehicles, Lexus sent technicians to pick up, repair, and return cars to customers free of charge, and also flew in personnel and rented garage space for owners in remote locations. This response was lauded in media publications and helped establish the marque’s early reputation for customer service.
By 1989’s end, 16,392 LS 400 and ES 250 sedans had been sold in the four months following the U.S. launch. Although sales had begun at a slower pace than expected, the final tally matched the division’s target of 16,000 units for that year.Following initial models, plans called for the addition of a sports coupe along with a redesigned ES sedan.
In 1990, during its first full year of sales, Lexus sold 63,594 LS 400 and ES 250 sedans in the U.S., the vast majority being the LS model. That year, Lexus also began limited exports to the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia. In 1991, Lexus launched its first sports coupe, the SC 400, which shared the LS 400’s V8 engine and rear-wheel drive design. This was followed by the second generation ES 300 sedan, which succeeded the ES 250 and became Lexus’ top seller. At the conclusion of 1991, Lexus had become the top-selling premium car import in the U.S., with sales reaching a total of 71,206 vehicles. That year, Lexus ranked highest in J.D. Power and Associates‘ studies on initial vehicle quality, customer satisfaction, and sales satisfaction for the first time. The marque also began increasing U.S. model prices past those of comparable American premium makes, but still below high-end European models; by 1992, the LS 400’s base price had risen 18% to nearly US$45,000.
In 1993, Lexus launched the mid-size GS 300 sports sedan, based on the Toyota Aristo, which had sold for two years prior in Japan. The GS 300 was priced below the LS 400 in the marque’s lineup. That same year, Lexus also became one of the first marques to debut a certified pre-owned program, with the aim of improving trade-in model values. In 1994, the marque introduced the second generation LS 400, a complete redesign of its flagship model. In May 1995, sales were threatened by the U.S. government’s proposal of 100% tariffs on upscale Japanese cars in response to the widening U.S.-Japan trade deficit. SUVs were exempt from the proposed sanctions. Normal sales operations resumed by late 1995 when the Japanese auto manufacturers collectively agreed to greater American investments, and the tariffs were not enacted.
In 1996, Lexus debuted its first sport utility vehicle, the LX 450, followed by the third generation ES 300 sedan. The marque’s plans for developing an SUV model had accelerated during the U.S.-Japan tariff discussions of 1995. In 1998, Lexus added the first luxury-branded crossover SUV, the RX 300, and the second generation GS 300 and GS 400 sedans. The RX crossover targeted suburban buyers who desired an upmarket SUV but did not need the LX’s off-road capability; it was particularly successful, becoming the marque’s top-selling model ahead of the ES 300. The same year, Lexus made its debut in South America’s most populous country when it launched sales in Brazil. In 1999, Lexus recorded its one-millionth vehicle sold in the U.S. market, and was ranked as the top-selling premium car make in the U.S. overall.
In 2000, Lexus introduced the IS line, a new series of entry-level sport sedans. In 2001, the marque debuted its first convertible, the SC 430, a redesigned ES 300, and the third generation LS 430. The GX 470 mid-size SUV debuted in 2002, followed by the second generation RX 330 in 2003. The following year, Lexus recorded its two-millionth U.S. vehicle sale, and debuted the first luxury-branded production hybrid SUV, the RX 400h. This vehicle used a Lexus Hybrid Drivesystem which combined gasoline and electric motors for increased power, fuel efficiency, and lower emissions relative to gasoline-only equivalents.
In 2005, Lexus completed an organizational separation from parent company Toyota, with dedicated design, engineering, training, and manufacturing centers working exclusively for the division. This effort coincided with Lexus’ launch in its home market of Japan and an expanded global launch of the brand in major world markets such as China. Executives aimed to increase Lexus sales outside of its largest market in the U.S. To accompany this expansion, next generation Lexus vehicles were redesigned as “global models” for international release. In the European market, where Lexus had long faced struggling sales owing to low brand recognition, few dedicated dealerships, and 1990s import quotas, the marque announced plans to introduce hybrid and diesel powertrains, increase the number of Lexus dealerships, and expand operations in emerging markets such as Russia.
Lexus’ arrival in the Japanese market in July 2005 marked the first introduction of a Japanese premium car marque in the domestic market. New generation LS, IS, GS and RX models subsequently became available in Japan along with the SC 430, ending domestic sales of Toyota-branded models under the Celsior, Altezza, Aristo, Harrier and Soarer nameplates, respectively. The Altezza and Aristo were previously exclusive to Japanese Toyota retail sales channels called Toyota Vista Store, the Celsior and Harrier were exclusive to Toyopet Store, and the Soarer was previously available at both Toyota Store and Toyopet Store locations. Lexus models sold in Japan featured higher specifications and a price premium (from ¥1-million and up) compared with their discontinued Toyota counterparts. Sales for the first half-year were slower than expected, affected by the contraction of the domestic auto market and price increases, but improved in subsequent months with an expanded lineup.
Through the mid-2000s, Lexus experienced sales successes in South Korea and Taiwan, becoming the top-selling import make in both markets in 2005; the marque also sold well in the Middle East, where it ranked first or second among rivals in multiple countries, and in Australia, where Lexus reached third in luxury car sales in 2006. Division executives in 2006 announced an expansion goal from 68 countries to 76 worldwide by 2010. By the end of the decade, this expansion resulted in official launches in Malaysia and South Africa in 2006, Indonesia in 2007, Chile in 2008, and the Philippines in 2009.
In 2006, Lexus began sales of the GS 450h, a V6 hybrid performance sedan, and launched the fourth generation flagship LS line, comprising both standard- and long-wheelbase V8 (LS 460 and LS 460 L) and hybrid (LS 600h and LS 600h L) versions. The fifth generation ES 350 also debuted in the same year. The LS 600h L subsequently went on sale as the most expensive sedan ever produced in Japan, with a sticker price of approximately US$125,000. By the end of 2006, Lexus’ annual sales had reached 475,000 vehicles worldwide. In January 2007, Lexus announced a new F marque performance division, which would produce racing-inspired versions of its performance models. The first of this line, the IS F, made its debut at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, accompanied by a supercar concept, the LF-A.
In October 2007, Lexus entered the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in the U.S. for the first time with the IS F, and announced its F-Sport performance trim level and factory-sanctioned accessory line. Automotive columnists noted Lexus’ increased emphasis on sporty models as an effort to bolster the marque’s performance credentials and target rivals from Mercedes-Benz’s AMG and BMW’s M divisions. While previous Lexus models such as the SC 400 and GS 400 had received favorable reactions from sport luxury buyers, other Lexus models had been characterized as favoring comfort over sporty road feel and handling, compared with European rivals. By the end of 2007, Lexus annual worldwide sales had surpassed 500,000 vehicles, and the marque ranked as the top-selling premium import in China for the first time. The largest sales markets in order of size for 2007 were the U.S., Japan, the UK, China, Canada, and Russia.
In 2008, amidst the late-2000s recession and a weakened world car market, global sales fell 16% to 435,000, with declines in markets such as the U.S. and Europe where deliveries fell by 21% and 27.5%, respectively. In 2009, the marque launched the HS 250h, a dedicated hybrid sedan for North America and Japan, the RX 450h, the second generation hybrid SUV replacing the earlier RX 400h, and later that year debuted the US$375,000 production LFA exotic coupe. In late 2009, citing higher sales of hybrid models over their petrol counterparts, Lexus announced plans to become a hybrid-only marque in Europe. By the end of the decade, Lexus ranked as the fourth-largest premium car make in the world by volume, and was the number-one-selling premium car marque in the U.S. for ten consecutive years.
In 2010, Lexus underwent a gradual sales recovery in North America and Asia as the marque focused on adding hybrids and new model derivatives. Sales in the U.S. held steady despite the 2009–2010 Toyota vehicle recalls, several of which included Lexus models. The ES 350 and certain IS models were affected by a recall for potentially jamming floor mats, while parent company Toyota bore the brunt of negative publicity amid investigations over its series of product recalls and problem rates per-vehicle. The redesigned GX 460 was also voluntarily recalled in April 2010 for a software update, one week after Consumer Reports issued a recommendation not to buy the SUV, citing a possible rollover risk following the slow stability control response to a high-speed emergency turn. Although the publication knew of no reported incidents, the GX 460 received updated stability control software.
In late 2010 and early 2011, Lexus began sales of the CT 200h, a compact four-door hybrid hatchback designed for Europe, in multiple markets. Sales of lower-displacement regional models were also expanded, beginning with the ES 240 in China followed by the RX 270; Japan, Russia, and Taiwan were among markets which received model variants intended for reduced emissions or import taxes. In March 2011, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami caused severe disruption to Lexus’ Japan-based production lines, hindering the marque’s near-term sales prospects. Lexus’ U.S. executives stated that due to vehicle shortages amidst close competition from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, the marque would not remain the country’s top-selling premium car brand. Cumulative sales results for 2011 indicated a 14% sales drop in the U.S. market, along with sales increases of 40% and 27% in Europe and Japan respectively, for a global sales total of 410,000 units. Lexus’ streak of eleven consecutive years as the best-selling luxury marque in the U.S. ended that year, with the title going to BMW. Subsequently, Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda vowed to restore passion to the marque and further increase its organizational independence.
In January 2012, the marque began sales of the fourth generation GS line, including GS 350 and GS 450h variants, as well as a lower-displacement GS 250 model for select markets. In April 2012, the sixth generation ES line, include ES 350 and ES 300h variants, debuted at the New York International Auto Show.
|Regional sales, 2011||Units|
|Type production, 2010||Units|
|Line production, 2010||Units|
The Lexus Group, headed by managing officer Kiyotaka Ise, coordinates the worldwide operations of Toyota’s luxury division. Other executives at Lexus’ global headquarters, located in Nagoya, Aichi, include Kazuo Ohara, deputy chief officer of the Lexus Group, and managers of the marque’s Japan Sales & Marketing and global Product & Marketing Planning divisions. While organizationally separate from its parent company, the Lexus Group reports directly to Toyota chief executive officer Akio Toyoda.
In the U.S., Lexus operations are headed by Mark Templin, group vice president and general manager of the U.S. Lexus division, located in Southern California. In Europe, Lexus operations are headed by Andy Pfeiffenberger, vice president of Lexus Europe, located in Brussels. Companion design facilities are located in Southern California and central Japan, with the head design studio devoted entirely to Lexus models in Toyota City, Aichi.
Lexus sales operations vary in structure by region. In many markets, such as the U.S., the dealership network is a distinct organization from corporate headquarters, with separately owned and operated Lexus showrooms. By contrast, in Japan all 143 dealerships in the country are owned and operated by Lexus. Several markets have a designated, third party regional distributor; for example, in the United Arab Emirates, sales operations are managed by Al-Futtaim Motors LLC, and in Costa Rica, Lexus vehicles are sold via regional distributor Purdy Motors S.A. Other officially sanctioned regional distributors have sold Lexus models prior to the launch of, or in absence of, a dedicated dealership network.
Financial data of Lexus operations are not disclosed publicly. However, automotive analysts estimate that the Lexus division contributes a disproportionate share of Toyota’s profits, relative to its limited production and sales volume. Interviews with retired division officials indicate that depending on sales volume, vehicle product development cycles, and exchange rates, Lexus sales have accounted for as much as half of Toyota’s annual U.S. profit in certain years. Division executives have employed pricing strategies aimed at sustaining profit margins rather than sales volume, with historically fewer priceincentives than rival brands. In 2006, Lexus entered Interbrand‘s list of the Top 100 Global Brands for the first time, with an estimated brand value of approximately US$3 billion annually. In 2009, Interbrand ranked Lexus as Japan’s seventh largest brand, between Panasonic and Nissan, based on revenue, earnings, and market value.
The global Lexus lineup features sedans of different size classes, including the compact IS and HS models, mid-size ES and GS models, and the full-size LS flagship. Convertibles include the IS C models. Sport-utility vehicles range in size from the crossover RX, the mid-size GX, to the full-size LX. Hybrid models include the CT hatchback, HS sedan, and variants of the GS, LS, and RX. The F marque line produces a variant of the IS sedan and the LFA coupe.
Lexus produces its highest-performance models under its F marque division. The name refers to Flagship and Fuji Speedway in Japan, whose first corner, 27R, inspired the shape of the “F” emblem. F marque models are developed by the Lexus Vehicle Performance Development Division. The first F marque model, the IS F, went on sale in 2007, followed by the LFA in 2009. A related F-Sport performance trim level and factory-sanctioned accessory line is available for standard Lexus models such as the IS 250 and IS 350. F-Sport succeeded an earlier in-house tuning effort, the TRD-based L-Tuned, which had offered performance packages on the IS and GS sedans in the early 2000s.
Lexus production models are named alphanumerically using two-letter designations followed by three digits. The first letter indicates relative status in the Lexus model range (ranking), and the second letter refers to car body style or type (e.g. LS for ‘luxury sedan’). The three digits indicate engine displacement in liters multiplied by a factor of one hundred (e.g. 350 for a 3.5 L engine). A space is used between the letters and numbers. The same letter may be used differently depending on the model; ‘S’ can refer to ‘sedan’ or ‘sport’ (e.g. in LS and SC), while ‘X’ refers to ‘luxury utility vehicle‘ or SUV. On hybrids, the three digits refer to the combined gasoline-electric output. For certain models, a lower case letter placed after the alphanumeric designation indicates powerplant type (‘h’ for hybrid, ‘d’ for diesel), while capital letter(s) placed at the end indicates a class subtype (e.g. ‘L’ for long-wheelbase, ‘C’ for coupe, ‘AWD’ for all-wheel drive). On F marque models, the two-letter designation and the letter ‘F’ are used with no numbers or hyphens (e.g. IS F).
Lexus design has traditionally placed an emphasis on targeting specific vehicle development standards. Since the marque’s inception, design targets have ranged from aerodynamics and ride quality to interior ergonomics. The backronym“IDEAL” (“Impressive, Dynamic, Elegant, Advanced, and Lasting”) is used in the development process. Each vehicle is designed according to approximately 500 specific product standards, known as “Lexus Musts,” on criteria such as leatherseat stitching. Design elements from the marque’s concept vehicle line, the LF series (including the 2003 LF-S and 2004 LF-C), have been incorporated in production models.
Vehicle cabins have incorporated electroluminescent Optitron gauges, SmartAccess, a smart key entry and startup system, and multimedia features. Beginning with the 2010 RX and HS models, the Remote Touch system, featuring acomputer mouse-like controller with haptic feedback, was introduced; other models have featured touchscreen controls (through the 2009 model year) as a navigation screen interface. In 1989, Lexus became among the first premium car marques to equip models with premium audio systems, in partnership with stereo firm Nakamichi. Since 2001, optional surround sound systems are offered via high-end audio purveyor Mark Levinson. For reduced cabin noise, the first LS 400 introduced sandwich steel plating, and later models added acoustic glass. In 2006, the LS 460 debuted the first ceiling air diffusers and infrared body temperature sensors in a car. Telematics services include G-Book with G-Linkin Asia and Lexus Enform in North America.
In 2006, Lexus incorporated the first production eight-speed automatic transmission in an automobile with the LS 460, and the gearbox was later adapted for the GS 460 and IS F models. Continuously variable transmissions, regenerative brakes, and electric motors have been used on all Lexus hybrid models. In 2007, Lexus executives signaled intentions to equip further models with hybrid powertrains, catering to demands for a decrease in both carbon pollution and oil reliance. Hybrid models have been differentiated by separate badging and lighting technology; in 2008, the LS 600h L became the first production vehicle to use LED headlamps.
Safety features on Lexus models range from stability and handling programs (Vehicle Stability Control and Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) to backup cameras, swivel headlights, and sonar warning systems. The Lexus Pre-Collision System (PCS) integrates multiple safety systems. In 2007, Lexus introduced the first car safety systems with infrared and pedestrian detection capabilities, lane keep assist, a Driver Monitoring System with facial recognition monitoring of driver attentiveness, and rear pre-collision whiplash protection, as part of the LS 460 PCS. As a safety precaution, Lexus GPS navigation systems in many regions feature a motion lockout when the vehicle reaches a set speed; to prevent distraction, navigation inputs are limited, while voice input and certain buttons are still accessible. This safety feature has attracted criticism because passengers cannot use certain functions when the vehicle is in motion. Pre-2007 models came with a hidden manufacturer override option, and updated European models allow operation in motion.
Production models in development have included convertibles, crossovers, and dedicated hybrids. Under the F marque, Lexus plans to produce high-performance vehicles with its first expressions being the IS F and the LFA. Lexus officials have also discussed standard production model usage of varying platforms. The LS flagship uses a dedicated platform, while the entry-level Lexus ES had been criticized for being too similar to the Toyota Camry, with which it shared platforms until its sixth generation, in both styling and powertrain design. The Nürburgring test track in Germany has also seen Lexus prototype testing.
Lexus introduced a new design language known as “L-finesse” in the mid-2000s with its LF series concepts and the 2006 Lexus GS. L-finesse is represented by three Japanese kanji characters which translate as “Intriguing Elegance, Incisive Simplicity, and Seamless Anticipation”. Design characteristics, including a fastback profile, lower-set grille, and the use of both convex and concave surfaces, are derived from Japanese cultural motifs (e.g. the phrase kirikaeshiin arrowhead shapes). While earlier Lexus models were criticized for reserved and derivative styling, and often mistaken for understated domestic market cars, automotive design analyses described L-finesse as adding a distinctive nature and embrace of Japanese design identity. Opinions varied for L-finesse’s debut on the GS; Sports Car International‘s analysis praised the vehicle’s in-person appearance; Automobile Magazine criticized the daring of its forward styling, and compared subsequent rival models for design similarities. In 2012, the arrival of the redesigned fourth generation Lexus GS featured the introduction of a spindle-shaped grille design, intended to be used on all forthcoming Lexus models. L-finesse exhibitions were presented at Milan‘s Salone del Mobile from 2005 through 2009.
The first Lexus vehicles were manufactured in Toyota’s flagship Tahara plant, a highly sophisticated, computerized manufacturing plant in Japan. Lexus production techniques include methods and standards of quality control that differ from Toyota models. At the Tahara plant, separate assembly lines were developed for Lexus vehicles, along with new molds and specialized manufacturing equipment. Welding processes, body panel fit tolerances, and paint quality requirements are more stringent. Lexus plant workers, typically veteran technicians, are identified via repeated performance evaluations and ranked according to skill grade, with limited applicants accepted. The highest level takumi(Japanese for “artisan”) engineers are responsible for maintaining production standards at key points in the assembly process, such as testing engine performance. Production vehicles are given visual inspections for flaws, individually test-driven at high speeds, and subjected to vibration tests.
Through the 2000s, most Lexus sedan and SUV production has occurred in Japan at the Tahara plant in Aichi and Miyata plant in Fukuoka. In addition to the Tahara factory, Lexus vehicles have been produced at the Miyata plant (Toyota Motor Kyushu, Inc.) in Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Higashi Fuji plant (Kanto Auto Works, Ltd.) in Susono, Shizuoka, and Sanage plant (Toyota Boshoku Corp.; Araco) in Toyota City, Aichi. Front-wheel drive cars, such as the ES and HS, are produced in the Fukuoka Prefecture. The Kokura plant in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, which opened in 2008, is a dedicated hybrid production site for Lexus models such as the gasoline-electric RX. The North American–market RX 350 (since the 2004 model year) is produced at the Cambridge plant (Toyota Canada, Inc.) in the city of Cambridge, in Ontario, Canada, which is the first Lexus production site located outside of Japan. In 2005, J.D. Power and Associates bestowed its Platinum award for worldwide plant quality on the Tahara plant for the fourth consecutive year, stating that it has the fewest defects of any manufacturing plant in the world. In 2006, J.D. Power named the Miyata plant, then the site of ES and IS model production, as its recipient of the Platinum award for worldwide plant quality, and in 2009 the Higashi Fuji plant, site of SC production, received the same recognition.
|Assembly sites by model|
|Tahara||Toyota Motor Corp.||Tahara, Aichi Prefecture||LS, GS, IS, GX|
|Kokura||Toyota Motor Kyushu, Inc.||Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture||CT, HS, RX|
|Miyata||Toyota Motor Kyushu, Inc.||Miyawaka, Fukuoka Prefecture||ES, IS, RX|
|Motomachi||Toyota Motor Corp.||Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture||LFA|
|Higashi Fuji||Kanto Auto Works, Ltd.||Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture||SC|
|Sanage||Toyota Boshoku Corp.||Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture||LX|
|Cambridge||Toyota Canada, Inc.||Cambridge, Ontario||RX|
In industry ratings of build quality, owner satisfaction, and reliability, Lexus vehicles have outperformed other manufacturers in successive years. J.D. Power and Associates has named Lexus the most reliable brand in the U.S. over fourteen times since 1995, according to its Vehicle Dependability Survey of over 53,000 vehicle owners and the first three years of ownership. In the J.D. Power Owner Satisfaction Survey of over 16,000 vehicle owners in the UK and the first one to three years of ownership, Lexus has scored the highest of all manufacturers for over ten years in a row; in 2011, the marque was again the top manufacturer and the Lexus IS was the highest ranked of all cars surveyed. In the 2000s, Consumer Reports named Lexus among the top five most reliable brands in its Annual Car Reliability Surveys of over one million vehicles across the U.S. The marque has also topped the J.D. Power Initial Quality Index, which measures vehicle problems in the first 90 days of ownership.
Lexus has become known for efforts to project an upscale image, particularly with service provided after the sale. The waiting areas in service departments are replete with amenities, ranging from refreshment bars to indoor putting greens.Dealerships typically offer complimentary loaner cars or “courtesy cars” and free car washes, and some have added on-site cafes and designer boutiques. Service bays are lined with large picture windows for owners to watch the servicing of their vehicle. In 2005, Lexus also began reserving parking lots at major sporting arenas, entertainment events, and shopping malls, with the only requirement for free entry being the ownership of a Lexus vehicle. An online owner publication, Lexus Magazine, features automotive and lifestyle articles and is published online monthly and on a mobile site.
Since 2002, Lexus has scored consecutive top ratings in the Auto Express and 76,000-respondent Top Gear customer satisfaction surveys in the UK. Lexus has also repeatedly topped the 79,000-respondent J.D. Power Customer Service Index and Luxury Institute, New York surveys in the U.S. As a result of service satisfaction levels, the marque has one of the highest customer loyalty rates in the industry. To improve customer service, employees are instructed to follow the “Lexus Covenant,” the marque’s founding promise (which states that “Lexus will treat each customer as we would a guest in our home”), and some dealerships have incorporated training at upscale establishments such asNordstrom department stores and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Lexus has competed at the 24 Hours Nürburgring since 2008, with race vehicles including the LFA and IS F.
Lexus first entered the motorsport arena in 1999 when its racing unit, Team Lexus, fielded two GS 400 race vehicles in the Motorola Cup North American Street Stock Championship touring car series. In its 1999 inaugural season, Team Lexus achieved its first victory with its sixth race at Road Atlanta. Led by Sports Car Club of America and International Motor Sports Association driver Chuck Goldsborough, based in Baltimore, Maryland, Team Lexus capitalized on the debut of the first generation Lexus IS by entering three IS 300s in the third race of the 2001 Grand-Am Cup season at Phoenix, Arizona. Team Lexus won its first IS 300 victory that year at the Virginia International Raceway. In 2002, Team Lexus’ competitive efforts in the Grand-Am Cup ST1 (Street Tuner) class achieved victories in the Drivers’ and Team Championships, as well as a sweep of the top three finishes at Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, Canada.
After the release of the Lexus brand in the Japanese domestic market in 2005, Lexus sanctioned the entry of four SC 430 coupes in the Super GT series of the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship in the GT500 class. In the first race of the 2006 series, an SC 430 took the chequered flag, and drivers André Lotterer and Juichi Wakisaka raced the SC 430 to capture the GT500 championship for that year. In 2007, another SC 430 won the GT500 opening round race. In 2006, Lexus raced a hybrid vehicle for the first time, entering a GS 450h performance hybrid sedan in partnership with Sigma Advanced Racing Development at the 24 Hours of Tokachi race in Hokkaido, Japan. Lexus Canada also entered the GS 450h in 2007’s Targa Newfoundland event. In 2009, Lexus Super GT Team SC 430 and IS 350 racers won the GT500 and GT300 championships, respectively.
Lexus’ participation in endurance racing further includes the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, sanctioned by the Grand American Road Racing Association. After entering the Rolex Sports Car Series in 2004, Lexus has won over 15 Rolex Series event races. In 2005, Lexus was runner-up, and in 2006, it won the championship. Although Toyota has won this race in the past, it was the first time that its luxury arm emerged as the winner. In 2007, six Lexus-powered Daytona prototypes were entered in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona event at the Daytona International Speedway. Lexus was a repeat winner of the event, with a Lexus-Riley prototype driven by Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Salvador Durán of Chip Ganassi Racing finishing first; Lexus-Riley prototypes also took three of the top ten spots. In 2008, Lexus won its third consecutive win at Daytona. For the 2010 season, Lexus departed from the Rolex Sports Car Series, and Ganassi Racing switched to BMW/Dinan engines. The LF-A prototype also competed on the Nürburgring since 2008 in VLNendurance races and in the 24 Hours Nürburgring, also with the IS F. On May 14, 2011, a CT 200h tuned up by Gazoo Racing competed in the Adenauer ADAC Rundstrecken-Trophy, a six hour endurance race.
From its inception, Lexus has been advertised to luxury consumers using specific marketing strategies, with a consistent motif used for the marque’s advertisements. Beginning in 1989, television ads were narrated by actor James Sloyan (the voice of “Mr. Lexus” until 2009), and accompanied by vehicles that performed unusual stunts onscreen. The first decade of Lexus commercials (1989–99) consisted primarily of disjunctive verbal descriptions, such as “relentless,” “pursuit,” and “perfection,” while vehicles were used to claim superiority in precision, idling, and interior quiet and comfort on camera. Examples included the champagne glass “Balance” (1989) and rolling “Ball Bearing” (1992). In the 2000s, commercials included descriptions of novel features, or a narration of the events onscreen, and were often targeted at the marque’s German competitors. An annual “December to Remember” campaign featured scenes of family members surprising loved ones with the gift of a new Lexus. The marque returned to the champagne glass theme in a 2006 LS 460 spot showing the sedan maneuvering between two stacks of glasses using its self-parking system, and in a 2010 LFA spot showing its engine sound shattering a glass via resonance frequency.
Industry observers have attributed Lexus’ early marketing successes to higher levels of perceived quality and lower prices than competitors, which have enabled the marque to attract customers upgrading from mass-market cars. A reputation for dependability, bolstered by reliability surveys, also became a primary factor in attracting new customers from rival premium makes. Lexus has since grown to command higher price premiums than rival Japanese makes, with new models further increasing in price and reaching the over-US$100,000 ultra-luxury category long dominated by rival European marques.
Automotive analysts have also noted Lexus’ relative newcomer status as a marketing challenge for the brand, although some have debated the requirement of a long history. European rivals have marketed their decades of heritage and pedigree, whereas Lexus’ reputation rests primarily upon its perceived quality and shared history with parent company Toyota. Several analysts have stated that Lexus will have to develop its own heritage over time by highlighting technological innovations and producing substantial products.
Lexus’ marketing efforts have extended to sporting and charity event sponsorships, including the U.S. Open tennis Grand Slam event from 2005 to 2009, and the United States Golf Association‘s U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Senior Open, and U.S. Amateur tournaments since 2007. Lexus has organized an annual Champions for Charity golf series in the U.S. since 1989. Endorsement contracts have also been signed with pro athletes Andy Roddick, Annika Sörenstam, and Peter Jacobsen.