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!)