By Martin O’Neil
Lexus is well-known for offering high-quality vehicles and fantastic customer service, though the company recognises it doesn’t spark the envy and admiration that its German rivals enjoy.
According to industry journal Automotive News, the Japanese marque and luxury brand is looking to pump some life into its image as a lifestyle brand, and to do so, parent company Toyota has appointed outgoing Lexus chief, Tokuo Fukuichi, as its chief branding officer.
Speaking at the Japanese launch for the new LC coupe, Fukuichi said: “When you’re stuck in traffic, people look at the driver in the Mercedes as a person who has made it in society, and they will envy you.”
“We haven’t fully achieved that compared with the German trio (Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi).”
On the 1st of April this year, Fukuichi stepped down as president of Lexus International Co. and took on the newly-created role of chief branding officer at Toyota Motor Corp. where he will oversee both the Lexus and Toyota brands. Lexus’s vice president during Fukuichi’s tenure, Yoshihiro Sawa, has succeeded him as the company’s global boss.
They kicked off the campaign with the launch of the new Lexus LC coupe, which will serve as the company’s first halo car since the LFA supercar ended production in 2012.
Already on sale globally as of mid this year, the big coupe will be offered in both V8 LC500 and V6 hybrid LC500h trims, riding on an all-new platform and showcasing the brand’s attention to detail in terms of interior quality.
Also at the Japanese launch of the LC coupe, the Lexus Sport Yacht concept was on display. Combining two 5.0-litre V8 engines (similar to the unit used in the RC F coupe) and a carbon-fibre hull, the boat demonstrates “how the luxury automotive brand could expand into new areas of lifestyle and recreation”.
While only a one-off concept, the Lexus Sport Yacht could preview what’s to come from Toyota Marine, which will soon add Ponam premium yachts to its Japanese portfolio.
The company also displayed renderings of its ‘Skyjet’ spaceship, which will star in the upcoming science-fiction movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Like the company’s road cars, the Skyjet features trademark Lexus design cues like the ‘spindle’ grille up front, along with the L-shaped daytime-running lights and triangular headlights.
It’s all part of the company’s efforts to revitalise its image, with Fukuichi adding the current issue was partly self-inflicted – noting that platform sharing and thinly-disguised rebadging did little to widen the gap between the Toyota and Lexus brands.
“Let’s clearly define Lexus and wait and decide that some things can only be Lexus and not applied to Toyota. I would like to clarify that sort of distinction,” he said.
It’s a distinction that Fukuichi says is crucial for Lexus to rid itself of its current “Toyota-Plus” perception, which will allow the luxury arm to step further upmarket.
“Lexus’ strengths such as quality and service can’t be fully appreciated unless you’re in the car driving. Better quality isn’t that necessary. Better brand power is,” he said.
In order to achieve “Lexus envy”, the company needs to establish a point of difference to the German marques, beyond its current reputation for reliability and customer satisfaction.
Design will play a key role in the brand’s push forward, which is fitting since Fukuichi still carries on his role as the head of advanced design at Toyota Motor Corp.
“After you purchase a Lexus, your whole lifestyle changes. The people you meet and circulate with change,” he said.
“That means with just one car, your total life image will change.”
Early next year the brand will also launch the fifth-generation LS limousine, which will compete directly with flagship German sedans like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8.
At the new model’s reveal at this year’s Detroit motor show, Lexus said the LS will represent “a new level of flagship luxury in every aspect”.
Beyond the LC and LS, however, it’s unknown at this stage what’s in store for the next-generation of the company’s core models, including the IS, NX, GS and RX.
It’s an ambitious plan for the Japanese marque, but if the LC and LS are anything to go by, there could be some big things to come.
We leave you with the lingering question of whether you think Lexus can achieve the same desirability status as German marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi?