New Lexus Design Chief Announced

New Head of Lexus Design

Following the semi-retirement of longtime Lexus and Toyota design chief Wahei Hirai in June 2009, company insiders and journalists have speculated on who his successor might be.  This week, they got a rather novel answer, with the appointment of an Englishman, Simon Humphries, to the top spot.  Humphries, who worked at Sony in product design prior to joining Toyota in 1994, becomes the highest-ranking foreigner in the company’s Japanese headquarters.  Promoted from his current position as general manager of design strategy for Lexus and Toyota, the 43-year-old Humphries will lead all of Toyota’s global design operations, including the studio devoted exclusively to Lexus.

Humphries is a longtime car enthusiast who rebuilt the engine of his first car, a Mini, and has worked on projects such as the 2001 Pod concept car, Scion CCX, Toyota FunCargo, and Scion bB.  Automotive News describes his most significant accomplishment as the 5-year development program, begun in 2001, which created the L-finesse styling language for Lexus.  Humphries’ appointment reportedly comes at the behest of company CEO Akio Toyoda, who wants to “make cars that are more visually interesting and fun to drive”.  According to Humphries, Toyoda has provided design input on each new car, focusing on “charm points” regarding driver position, cornering visibility and vehicle stance.  More details about Humphries’ design perspective and biography after the jump.

The new design chief offered some hints about future designs to Automotive News, including “more expressive, dynamic front ends”, “minimizing or eliminating the upper grille” as in the Prius, and more colors and material personalization options.  However, it’s not clear how many of these hints apply directly to Lexus.  One tidbit does directly reference the luxury marque, namely “smaller, less cluttered instrument panels for the Lexus brand, with controls closer to driver.” Humphries, who is fluent in Japanese, also reportedly wants to continue channeling the island nation’s cultural sensibilities in future models. As referenced in our recent CT 200h chief designer interview, the ‘J-factor’ is a key element of current Lexus designs. In a separate interview conducted shortly before the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, Humphries also characterized the development of L-finesse:

Humphries: Perhaps one thing I am proud of is the steps we’re taking with Lexus, a lot of which are coming to fruition now. You can now see in the high street the Lexus dealers in Japan, when they weren’t here a year ago. They started from this August. The vehicles being sold here are the first examples of the strategy that we proposed for Lexus. I think Lexus in the States over the years had a tendency to verge towards a little bit of the staid side, and we feel like we’re going to be able to bring it back to where it was originally, which was a complete alternative to the staid luxury of BMW and Mercedes Benz, and create an alternative, something that hasn’t got history, and therefore it’s an advantage.

Regarding the switch from Lexus’ initial target-market focus to a worldwide emphasis, coinciding with the brand’s Japanese launch, Humphries explained the motivation as folows:

I think it’s just the need to create Lexus as a global brand. It’s no good these days having segmented brands around the world; it only leads to difficulties. For example, we were selling some models as Lexus [in the US] but the same body type as Toyotas over here. So again it leads to difficulties in design. It’s difficult to purify design, to create a very distinct direction for something, because you’re selling the same product under two brand names, and you get an overlap. So I think one of the primary reasons was to segment Lexus from Toyota, and do that on a global scale.

Humphries also provided an interesting analogy of Japanese uniqueness, the curry doughnut, stating that “that is a real eye-opener—the way they can seemingly combine two normal things to create something that is very, very new.” It will indeed be interesting to see how Humphries will make his stamp for the luxury division of the world’s largest automotive company.

Automotive News further included this biographical list:

Title: General manager, Lexus-Toyota
Joined Toyota: 1994
Age: 43
Nationality: British
Family: Married, 3 children
University: De Montfort University in the United Kingdom (industrial design)
Hobbies: Black belt in Aikido (Japanese martial art), gardening
Noted work: Pod concept, Scion CCX
In his garage: Dark-gray Land Cruiser, blue Toyota MRS
Most coveted car: Triumph TR5
Favorite vacation spot: Thailand
Favorite food: Curry with beer
Last movie seen: Avatar
Source of inspiration: Drinking with friends
Advice to young designers: Be yourself

[Source: Automotive News (subscriber only)]



  1. This Simon Humphries is taking a job I really want - I’m today’s version of Ian Callum, a Callum at the level of a “nobody” at his new job at Ford. I began to feel a bit nostalgic, so I grabbed The Lexus Story that Lexus gave me as a gift (was also given a Lexus pen worth $100 that my mother broke in her purse). Hopefully, this Humphries can be the next Ichiro Suzuki, if not more than all Humphries’ predecessors. L-finesse needs to have a limitless way to express itself, especially since most critics are right when they claim similarities between Lexus and Toyota models.

    (The Lexus Story undoubtedly has some bias, but it’s safe to assume that the statistics are reliable enough for comparative reasons.)
    When Lexus introduced the RX 300, Lexus witnessed sales charging through a hypsiphobic glass ceiling with the help of favorable reviews. Numbers skyrocketed pass the 100,000 mark, and a customer claimed that Lexus had become a bit arrogant as Lexus’ J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey (IQS) and a few other survey ratings plummeted. Then in 2000, Lexus reached 220,000, but it was proactive, and it was back on top the IQS ratings.

    Now some people have given Lexus sympathy for its recent fallback in the IQS in favor of its large sales volume, but in 2008, Lexus’ sales was only at 260,087. Then in 2009, Lexus’ sales dropped down to 215,975 while gaining little in the IQS. (Should better competition be a good excuse?) Even more, the sales number is not only at the same level as it was in 2000, but while Lexus relied on only 6 models in 2000, Lexus had 9 models to rely on in 2009, which had the help of new engine options, a new convertible, and the hybrid and F lineup. Now are we really going to start mentioning about the economy?

    Btw, this doesn’t mean I want Lexus’ lineup to shrink.

  2. @WorldofLuxury: From the outsider’s view, Lexus could use more Ichiro Suzukis, with the near-fanatical attention to detail and drive to produce the best car ever.  Reading Humphries’ remarks about the need “to segment Lexus from Toyota” does address the point about those criticized similarities, however it remains to be seen how much influence he’ll wield.

    Regarding the IQS, I should point out that Lexus’ rankings were: 2005 (1), 2006 (2), 2007 (2), 2008 (3), and 2009 (1), the most recent one being here:

    It does seem that with the new models, the initial year(s) was more challenging, but since then they have gotten back atop the rankings, despite having far greater sales volume than their closest IQS rivals, Porsche.

    And it does seem like an incredibly fascinating job, to shape the future look of Lexus cars…a dream position for many admirers of the company’s vehicles.  However a very challenging one too!

  3. As long as the next IS and GS look better than the past generations and are even more fun to drive, I’m happy. I would definitely want more customization options anything from interior to aero kits too.

  4. @Dan: WHOOPS! Forgot they were #1 in 2009. EEK! gasp

  5. *GASP* not to mention that the LX 570 was the best performer in 2009, which is well worth mentioning despite the obvious lurking factors. I’m really hoping for a significant facelift soon, especially one that ups the ante of the interior design and materials. A more distinguished and “together” look for the exterior would be great. Better middle seats (maybe also rear row) would be even better!

    The LX has got to be the Lexus I pay most attention to even though it is really quiet when it comes to news. Most of the times, I could care less about replacing my LS. I’m American, and I want a big, luxury SUV with no compromises! mad

  6. @Wunko: I too am wondering about the next IS and GS, I hope they turn out well.  The IS looks best in class now, while the GS has aged well but has some similar looking rivals and other cars.

  7. Cool! Really looking forward and excited that their going to be seperating Lexus from Toyotas with different looks. Not a fan of Lexus’s looking like Toyotas. Also looking forward to more exciting looking vehicles apart from the IS.

  8. @Hoc: well, until now I haven’t bought any Lexus because it is still a dressed up toyota. still waiting for the real Lexus car…

  9. @Lexi: Depends on which model, the IS, GS, LS, etc. are all Lexus.

  10. @Dan: The LS still annoys me a bit. The rear is not as stubby as it used to be, thanks to the facelift, but… I still see some Camry in the rear.

  11. @WorldofLuxury: Indeed, they should try to avoid mixing L-finesse with Vibrant Clarity; particularly the LS 600h L grille which looks a bit too close.

  12. Dan:@Lexi: Depends on which model, the IS, GS, LS, etc. are all Lexus.

    Yep. In the past though, there were Toyota equivalents for IS, GS, LS, and some others but this is not the case anymore with the current generation and the Lexus brand being introduced in Japan a few years ago. A lot of people use the “dressed-up Toyota” excuse against Lexus so if Lexus were to distinguish itself even more from Toyota hopefully less people will say that. I still can kind of see the Camry with the ES and LS, but not that I think any of them are bad cars.