A very interesting discussion is ongoing at The Truth About Cars, and what started out as an editorial criticizing the new IS-F’s marketing campaign has blossomed into a much deeper debate: Why does Lexus have a performance division at all?
To be fair, the question does open up considerably, casting the same doubts onto Mercedes/AMG, BMW/M Division and Audi/S. The argument is, what do these luxury brands gain by putting such substantial time and money into speed-demon halo cars? Shouldn’t each automaker focus on what they do best?
Were it strictly an attack on Lexus and their new F-line, the answer would be quick and obvious — to compete with their competitors by using their considerable reputation for reliability and dealership experience to draw in customers that want the speed but not the associated maintenance cost and poor service. Even considered solely on these points, the Lexus stands to make an impact in this rarified segment, all while staying true to their overall brand message: The Pursuit of Perfection.
However, when looking at the bigger argument as to why these performance divisions exist at all, that’s a tougher nut to crack. Beyond the significant tuning involved, the main thrust of the F/M/AMG/S divisions is horsepower, the vehicles released contain monster engines capable of stupidly excessive speed. If this was the main point of contention, it would be understandable, how many drivers need 400+bhp for their daily commute? Yet, this seems widely ignored, instead focusing on the idea of brand dilution, and more pointedly, do these halo cars actually serve their purpose of drawing in the general car-buying public to their respective companies?
To this question I have no concrete answers, and only my opinion: Consider the word luxury: the state of great comfort and extravagant living; an inessential, desirable item that is expensive or difficult to obtain. Now, consider the luxury car, at least in terms of Lexus, BMW, Mercedes and Audi — they may be rarer than Chevys and Hondas, but the roads are crowded with these brands. What better way to elevate their status, short of increasing prices, than to release highly tuned versions? In my mind, this is the real reasoning behind the tuning arms, to restore some of the uniqueness that’s worn off due to higher sales. Whether this leads to people buying the non-tuned versions is hard to say, but it’s a suitable justification nonetheless.