Motor Trend Interview with Akio Toyoda on the Future of Lexus


Akio Toyoda at Lexus GS Launch

From his presentation at the debut of the fourth-generation GS last week, it was pretty clear Toyota President Akio Toyoda has big plans for Lexus, but in this new interview with Motor Trend (of all places), Toyoda-san shares some very candid comments about the brand’s future:

“Lexus was born out of a unique situation,” says Toyoda. “A single company giving birth to two brands is unique. We wanted a car to compete with the S-class. However back then we did not regard Lexus as a brand, but as a distribution channel.” And that’s a key insight. It’s why Lexus vehicles were sold for many years in Japan as Toyotas, and why Lexus did not have brand or product champions at a senior level within the Toyota organization in Nagoya.

As previously discussed in an Autoweek article earlier this week, this internal struggle lead to a full organizational shuffle:

To fix Lexus, Toyoda has created a stand-alone Lexus division within Toyota that is responsible for the design, development and marketing of Lexus vehicles worldwide. Its senior managers all report directly to him, an organizational structure that is unique within Toyota. “Lexus never had a leader,” says Karl Schlicht, general manager of the Lexus Product & Marketing Division, an American who works in Japan as part of the new multi-national Lexus senior management team. “We went to Akio and said ‘we need a leader’. And he said, ‘I will be that leader’.”

Toyoda clearly takes that role seriously. “I am passionate about the future of Lexus, and wanted to be personally involved,” he says. “I want Lexus to be the car the most sophisticated drivers want to drive, and once they’ve driven one they never want to drive anything else.”

Reading these quotes actually gave me chills. More than anything, this new focus is coming at a time when Lexus needs it the most — especially as the brand looks to expand its reach globally. Still, it’s important to look at this as just the beginning, as evidenced by this final passage:

But though Lexus now has a passionate champion at the very highest level of Toyota, it’s not out of the woods yet. When asked what he thought the Lexus brand should stand for, Toyoda-san’s face clouds, and he pauses before answering: “We need to have a clear message. That’s one thing I have difficulty with – coming up with a clear definition.”

This lack of a “clear definition” is a result of the transition of Lexus from luxury-centric to performance-oriented, which has proven to be a difficult but necessary transformation — there’s just no way an upscale auto manufacturer can succeed in this market without balancing luxury & driving enjoyment.

Lexus has always stood apart from its competitors with its commitment to customer service and in overall vehicle reliability (despite its recent recall troubles), but more than that, Lexus always been about the “pursuit of perfection” — only it now appears that the definition of “perfection” has changed. It’s not often that a brand gets to redefine its

Read the Full Motor Trend Interview (Thanks John!)

Comments


  • JVX

    Tell Akio that I, myself, am very passionate about the Lexus brand too.  I’ve been following Lexus since the late 80′s with the first LS and see how they have grown over the years.  I can see a ‘clear definition’ as to where the brand is heading; performance, style, advanced technology, and customer satisfaction  are just as important as luxury alone.  To me, that would be the ultimate perfection.  Brand loyalty will follow.

  • Dbiy

    The problem is Lexus has already conquered the American market..

    Now they want to conquer the rest of the world..

    And that my friends is that what this whole dance is about..

  • BlackDynamiteMB

    This is a time of transition, not upheaval, for Lexus. They want to broaden their base, and build a younger audience, and a more vibrant image. Cars like the ISF, LFA, and even LS Sport are helping. The GS is the next step.As much as critics hate to admit it, when America thinks of luxury, they now think Lexus first. Period. If not for the tsunami, Lexus would be the #1 luxury marque for a 12th straight time. BMW knows it. Mercedes knows it.Hopefully, Lexus doesn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Having some models show your sporty side (IS, GS, LS Sport, LFA, CT) is a great idea, but an ES doesn’t need to change it’s mission in life. Building a smart, conservative luxury car for your core audience (50-60 year olds), is not only good business, it vital to your success.Lexus has many redesigns coming in the next 18 months, and when the dust has settled, they will continue to be the luxury leader for many years to come, whether enthusiasts like it or not.But cars that are fun to drive will show up on the menu. You will be able to have a good time, not just a smart buy, at your Lexus dealer.BD

  • Horizon

    I think Lexus main problem is that they gained success at an unprecedented duration of time..

    They first came onto the American market and bang BIG SUCCESS.. they thought alright we will create the same formulae for the rest of the world but unfortunate that’s where they went wrong..

    If Lexus wants to succeed in Europe they can forget it because in Europe MERCEDES, BMW, Audi own the market by selling cars that are inferior to the Yaris from Toyota.. So obviously it’s impossible to compete there, unless Toypta puts a Lexus badge in the Yaris..

    An example of an typical European luxury car; Tiny rattly 1.4L engine, diesel, no leather, no luxury amenities what so ever.. Terrible insulation, manual transmission and of coarse unreliable.. HOW CAN LEXUS COMPETE??

  • http://www.facebook.com/RDS.Alphard Yong Thian Ding

    Because of Lexus only came with huge engine , lots of standard equipment & too luxury … it’s became a car that forbidden to be bought here . And the worst is , the dealership is cut of almost every standard equipment that Japanese or American would get when it’s came in (to reduce cost & look for more owner) , which made Lexus is still not an famous brand while the other European brand keep on top .

    But … Toyota is quite , familiar here .

  • Horizon

    Which country you from?

  • http://grandresume.com/resume_writing resume writing

    I wanna have htis car!(((( I`ll take it like present)

  • Mike DeLorca

    I have said this from the first announcement that he was coming aboard. He is the best thing for TMC and LEXUS. I think his media exposure is what he needs to keep doing. He needs to do formal commercials to the masses to say some of the same positive plans for the future of LEXUS. This man has such a presence and has such an impact on peoples emotions that they alreaady feel towards the company. I too have chills (as Krew expressed) listening to him. I think that the public that is not normally a LEXUS  ENTHUSIASTor past owner would take notice when he makes apperances and statements……I SAY KEEP UP THE MEDIA SPOTLIGHT AND GIVE THE US A PUNCH OF JAPANESE HERITAGE AND BE PROUD TO BE THE FINEST AUTO MAKER IN THE WORLD.

  • Mike DeLorca

    very well said—-great statements and thoughts.  If it weren’t for LEXUS the refinement and quality benchmark would likely not be where it is today……LEXUS is the first thought when it comes to true Luxury. What other automakers can’t be so proud of is the refinement and quality that COMES WITH the LUXURY. Some proclaim the luxury, however, true luxury is the fact of the refinement and respect of reliability.

  • Mike DeLorca

    very well said—-great statements and thoughts.  If it weren’t for LEXUS the refinement and quality benchmark would likely not be where it is today……LEXUS is the first thought when it comes to true Luxury. What other automakers can’t be so proud of is the refinement and quality that COMES WITH the LUXURY. Some proclaim the luxury, however, true luxury is the fact of the refinement and respect of reliability.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lasse-J-Nordvik/100001045418399 Lasse J. Nordvik

    Extremely well put,Mike! I couldn’t agree more.  :-D

  • BlackDynamiteMB

    To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a little “Swag” out of Toyoda-san!  A little Rex Ryan, if you will

    Let people know that Lexus is coming!  Lexus is second to NO ONE!
    Mercedes had it’s day, and now it’s our time!
    BD

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    Agreed, very well said. :-)

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    Very interesting perspective. It’s definitely something Lexus will struggle with moving forward, but I’m not sure they want to be competing in the lower end of the market — I think it would cause more trouble than it’s worth (rekindling the whole rebadged Toyota discussion that Europeans tend to favor).

    That said, I’m still holding out hope for a A-segment car, but I really doubt it will ever happen. 

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    This article seems to think that the RX’s success is some sort of bad thing, but I think its success (combined with the ES) give Lexus a ton of flexibility with the IS & GS — they can make them as sporty as they want. The problem seems to be that these two sides of Lexus are at odds, and really, what’s the middle ground?

  • Foobar

    While what you describe can be called a typical (southern) European car, one has to be from a very gloomy part of Europe to label it anything with “luxury” :)

  • http://about.me/juanmcm Martín Coppedè

    I not agree with ur opinion. I live in Europe (and other places too) and here if Lexus want, can have a piece of market. Bigger or smaller than BMW, Mercedes or VW-Audi.
    Before Toyota released the hybrid models in USA, was important, but not much. In Europe is the same.
    Lexus have some simpaties from european owners because the hybrid is so important here, here the petrol is much more expensive than in USA or other places.
    Here can compete, many german or italian cars here are automatics too ;)

  • http://about.me/juanmcm Martín Coppedè

    @krew:twitter what happened with my previous comment?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717185464 Мохамед Абдулрахман Рамадан

    what i say 

    what is the wrong if you delete the ES and give it’s role to TOYOTA 

    it’s will be a win win situation for TOYOTA

    the TOYOTA brand will move forward to the near luxury and can then able (if they want ) to sell the MARK_X , CROWN & MAJESTA outside JAPAN

    and i think that’s what TOYOTA will do after they saw VW & HYUNDAI offer a car in mid & large LUX

    and if not why then all the people that SAW the next AVALON said its a 4 door coupe with a shape so close of XJ & A7

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717185464 Мохамед Абдулрахман Рамадан

    i still think the LEXUS credit will got much higher if they lose all the FWD models

    even i thought the next CT will be a RWD based on the FT

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717185464 Мохамед Абдулрахман Рамадан

    GUYS

    LEXUS can bench mark it’s self in Europe

    no need to compete in every single category

    but what needed really is to succeed in the categories they did

    if the IS , GS , LS succeed (C , E ,S) , (A4 , A6 , A8) , (3 , 5 , 7) in Europe , by sales or by motivation terms or by name (which sure can take more time) 

    so LEXUS is number 1

    whatever any other cars

    we must all know that those 3 categories is the main 

  • D2

    Lexus should pull out of the European market..

  • D2

    Wrong, Toyota will always want to be cost competitive.. I think Toyota is smart, they want to make the Avalon more popular with the Camry buyers in USA.. Because now the Camry sells around 30000 units per months where as the Avalon barely cracks the 5000 unit mark..

    Buy making the Camry costing less then the competition, it will allow the Avalon to come in for people looking for something more then a Camry but don’t want the badge aka Lexus.. So expect Avalon to become a player in the U.S market..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717185464 Мохамед Абдулрахман Рамадан

    may be you are right

    but i guess all the market game tactics changed right now

    and that why Hyundai & VW dare to have Equus & Phaeton in there line up

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717185464 Мохамед Абдулрахман Рамадан

    may be you are right

    but i guess all the market game tactics changed right now

    and that why Hyundai & VW dare to have Equus & Phaeton in there line up

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717185464 Мохамед Абдулрахман Рамадан

    what !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    no way

    the euro market for LEXUS should be the grand great final battle

    if they win it they are simply #1 ever after

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=717185464 Мохамед Абдулрахман Рамадан

    what !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    no way

    the euro market for LEXUS should be the grand great final battle

    if they win it they are simply #1 ever after

  • Anonymous

    I don’t care much for Mr.President’s comments. He says Lexus needs a “clear message”, Where was he the last 20 years? The name “LEXUS” was derived from the words ‘Luxury’ & ‘Elegance’. Isn’t that obvious? This guy just wants to combine sport & luxury just like the Germans, thus robbing the Lexus brand of it’s ‘identity’. He’s the one who raced an LFA after all.
    I’m for the “Old School” Lexus ie luxury all the way! & just in case anyone asks I’m in my early 30′s & not late 60′s…

  • Anonymous

    If Mercedes had it’s day, shouldn’t you too by removing ‘MB’ from your name? ;-)

  • Anonymous

    If Mercedes had it’s day, shouldn’t you too by removing ‘MB’ from your name? ;-)

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    Crazy talk.

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    Which one is that?

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    Great comment, but unfortunatley, the GS just can’t be competitive in its segment without boosting its performance credentials. Really, I think Lexus should push the GS & IS as far as they’ll go performance-wise — however, if performance becomes a major characteristic of the next-gen LS, I may have to change my tune. ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/george.ho.cn George Ho

    Dear guys,

    I’m George from Hong Kong.
    The GS 350 (2013) version is already available for pre-order in HK.
    HK dollar $760,XXX with tax.
    Just FYI:  BMW 535i is selling at $790,XXX with tax in HK and MB E350 (AV) is selling at $810,XXX.

    Cheers,
    George

  • Ron808

    First of all I am a Lexus driver.  I love their cars. But if Lexus expects to compete in Europe they must stop copying Mercs, BMWs and Audis.  Lexus has to develop their own identity coupled with their dependabilty to be competitive.

  • Anonymous

    In one sense you are right Krew, But I always thought the main reason the GS was a sales flop was another Lexus namely the ES. Let’s face it car buffs like you & me would buy the GS over an ES anyday (like I did) but for the majority of people (laypersons if you like) the ES is the one to go for simply cause it’s bigger, more spacious, more fuel efficient, has nearlly the same level of kit & costs considerably less than the equivalent GS350.
    I reckon once the next ES comes out history will repeat itself & GS sales will once again continue to dwindle.

  • Anonymous

    In one sense you are right Krew, But I always thought the main reason the GS was a sales flop was another Lexus namely the ES. Let’s face it car buffs like you & me would buy the GS over an ES anyday (like I did) but for the majority of people (laypersons if you like) the ES is the one to go for simply cause it’s bigger, more spacious, more fuel efficient, has nearlly the same level of kit & costs considerably less than the equivalent GS350.
    I reckon once the next ES comes out history will repeat itself & GS sales will once again continue to dwindle.