Lexus vehicles are very beautiful, reliable, powerful and impeccably brilliant. Lexus vehicles have that perfect blend of comfort and performance, and are quite affordable compared to the Benz, BMWs, Cadillacs, Porsches etc… of the same class.
But, do you know that Lexus’ first vehicle was specifically designed to unseat Benz and BMW from the top of the luxury automobile ladder? Do you know that the first Lexus got the chief engineer of Mercedes Benz sacked?
Do you know that it cost more than a billion dollars to develop the first Lexus? And that a Lexus is a big boy Toyota?…
Let’s Get-On-Track and discuss this phenomenon that caused a transformation in the automobile luxury industry!
TOYOTA – EXTRAORDINARILY ORDINARY.
After Toyota recorded phenomenal success in Japan, she started to import vehicles that were small, fuel-efficient and reliable into the United States.
At that time, these vehicles were everything that the regular American vehicles were not; American vehicles were big gas hogs which were notorious for breaking down at almost any time.
The Americans were enthralled that cars could be so reliable, and so affordable. Inevitably, Americans started buying them at an alarming rate.
As a result of this, Toyota was able to gain an appreciable share of the American automobile market in a few years; about 11%!
But this was just the beginning!
Early in the 1970s, the world was hit with an oil crisis; fuel became very scarce, and inevitably, prices skyrocketed.
This made the owners of the big gas hogs abandon their cars and get more fuel-efficient Japanese vehicles i.e Toyotas, Hondas etc.
As a result, by the end of the 70s, Toyota’s share price of the American market was about 28%.
This was more than twice of what they had a few years earlier), and that only meant one thing; MORE MONEY!
Government! Do something!
By 1980, Toyota was a very rich automobile company.
It had grown so big that American automakers (Chevrolet, Ford and GMC) had to meet with the government and make them pass a law to restrict the number of vehicles Toyota imported into the US per year; to just 1.68 million vehicles.
With great power comes great responsibility…
Toyota decided to switch up their game.
They wanted to not just be known as “the company that produces small cars”, they wanted to play in the big leagues, with BMW, Mercedes Benz, Cadillac and the others.
Ichiro Suzuki, Toyota’s lead project engineer, devised a plan that would be instrumental in moving them up the ladder.
He believed that the German luxury makers had had it too easy, with competition happening just within their circle, therefore, they had grown complacent.
He figured that nobody would expect a Japanese automaker like Toyota to produce a luxury vehicle and decided to take the responsibility to unseat the Germans. And that was what they did!
Strength made perfect in weakness!
At that time, the Yen was like the Naira today, it was very weak compared to the dollar.
Here is the lovely part; since Toyota were earning in dollars from the US, and spending in Yen to produce, it made them spend a lot in production, but also make a lot more profit.
On this premise, they decided to embark on the phenomenal project.
Toyota named the project F1 meaning Flagship 1. They enlisted 3,700 technicians split into 24 units with a budget of about one billion dollars! In the 1980s, money!!!
The plan was simple: this new car was not going to share any properties with the old Toyotas, everything would have to be built from scratch and developed to be better than everything that ever was, before that time.
The project took off in 1983.
To know what to build and how to build it, Toyota sent a team to Orange County, California. As we all know, Americans are the leading consumers of luxury automobiles and automobiles generally.
The team stayed in a house at the Laguna beach for a month, and were doing just one thing: observing the people to know their likes and preferences.
Armed with information, they headed back to Japan to get to work.
The first running prototype was ready by 1985.
It was not powered by an inline 4 cylinder, or a V6, which Toyota had been known to build over time.
Toyota engineers knew that the vehicle had to be very fast, as that was notable of luxury sedans, so they had committed about 400 million dollars to the development of a new engine.
- Aluminium engine blocks and cylinder heads
- Dual overhead cams
- A sophisticated fuel injection system
- It produced about 250 horsepower.
- 4.0 litres of displacement
- And most importantly, 8 cylinders.
It is the notorious 1UZ-FE engine, a V8 known for its reliability and smooth running.
Testing through fire!
Toyota built 450 prototypes of the cars and tested them extensively in Germany, on the long stretches of the Autobahn, driving them at full throttle for literally: days, just to ensure that the engines were not just good enough, but excellent.
The cars were either unmarked or wearing Cressida badges, to make the public unaware that it was a new car, but people still followed for miles.
Does she freeze?
Some of the cars were sent to Canada and Sweden, two of the world’s coldest places, to test the performance of the traction control and anti-lock brake system in extremely cold weather.
These tests lasted for about two winters, and once those parts of it were aced, it was time for suspension tweaks.
They brought in Indy car legend, Roger Penske, to tweak the suspension and handling… What did they not do?
ONE MORE THING…
The car was almost ready by the late 1980s.
But just then, Toyota encountered a problem. The car was too good, and calling it a Toyota would downplay its excellence, thereby selling them short!
They called for a suggestion of possible names from their Brain Trust, and about 200 potential brand names were sent in.
After much deliberation, the board selected five possible names. I, however, don’t know the other four…
They chose ”LEXUS”.
And like every other luxury automaker, they called it the LS 400, the LS probably means Luxury Sedan, and the 400 probably stands for the 4.0 L engine.
HERE COMES LEXUS!
The Lexus LS 400 debuted in 1989, and as expected; IT BLEW UP THE SHOWROOM!!!
People could not believe that Toyota, ‘that Japanese company’, had built a car that was better than the German automakers!
Upon its debut, it was faster from 0-100km/hr than the BMW 740i, and looked better than the Mercedes 300 SE (not the AMG), and had way more tech than all the other luxury automakers had to offer!
Drivers loved the quiet cabin and the exceptionally smooth running V8 under the hood; it was reputably so smooth that you could balance glasses of wine on the hood while revving it to about 4000rpm, or speeds of about 145mph!!!😱😱
WHY SO CHEAP?
Lexus detonated another shocking bomb with their price!
The car sold for just about $40,000😱😱😱. That was ridiculously cheap…
I know you’re like; “James, I thought you said they developed the vehicle with about $1billion, how were they able to sell it for so cheap?”
Well, remember that I told you that the Japanese Yen was weak and the dollar was strong; the car was developed in Japan, and because they spent in Yen to develop the car, it made it much cheaper than that price to produce.
LEXUS LEAVES THEM IN THE DUST…
It was a huge success so much that in the second year of production, it passed both BMW and Mercedes in sales🤭🤭.
In response to this, Mercedes dropped their US price by 10% and rushed to add a lot of technology to their 1991 S-class, and ended up going way over budget, leading to their lead engineer losing his job. Haq haq haq 😂😂, what a pity…
Cadillac, after buying an LS400 and taking it apart, concluded that they couldn’t build a car that good with their present manufacturing process. Poor boys…😆😆
BMW accused Lexus of selling below budget, lol… They just could not believe that something so good could be so cheap😄😄😄.
THE SKY IS THE TARMAC
After that super launch of the Lexus brand, there have been different models of the LS released. The LS brand has maintained the standard of being one of the best in the luxury business and as expected with growth: IT IS NO LONGER CHEAP.
The LS is Lexus’ full-sized flagship luxury sedan.
- The purely internal-combustion LS 500 uses a 416-hp twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 and a 10-speed automatic, and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds.
- The 354-hp LS 500h uses a hybrid version of the 3.5-liter V-6; it loses half a second on the 0-60 mph time versus the LS 500, but gets an additional five mpg combined. Both versions can be had with RWD or AWD
The price starts at a whooping $75,300, quite expensive.
Lexus can be more conservative than its competitors, being slower to react to trends and less frequent with its model upgrades.
On the other hand, Lexus’ styling can be eccentric and polarizing; the brand’s current penchant for oversized “spindle grilles” is a prime example.
Lexus durability, however is legendary; in one famous example, a 1996 LS 400 crossed the million-mile mark in February 2019.
Let me know what new thing you’ve learnt, and your perception of the Lexus brand in the comments below. And tune in next week for more information on the Lexus line-up.
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