The history of the brand began in Europe 400 years ago with the LS 25 luxury sedan Lexus, The noble offshoot of Toyota had already been introduced in the USA in 1989. The LS aimed there at customers who found a Cadillac too common and a Mercedes S-Class too expensive. They wanted to offer the same or better quality than the competition with better customer service. In the USA, this hit the nerve of a large group of customers straight away, which was not surprising, since Lexus was created in Laguna Beach, California, an hour's drive from Los Angelas.
There, Toyota had commissioned engineers and designers to research American driving culture and customer requirements and to create a suitable product. The result was a solid eight-cylinder sedan, very quiet, very comfortable, very soft suspension, not unlike an S-Class of the time, with complete equipment and much better quality than the American competitors Cadillac and Lincoln offered. In addition to the LS, Lexus produced a somewhat smaller sedan called ES for American customers. 100.000 units of both cars were sold annually just two years after their market launch, making the new brand a clear exclamation mark among the premium suppliers.
In Europe and especially on the German market, Lexus initially only competed with the luxury class sedan LS 400. However, there was no more than a success in the form of positive press reports. It was perceived that there was a new alternative, but the familiar brands were still being bought in the home country by Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
From 1998, i.e. an auto generation after the start, Lexus again presented the first premium SUV in the USA with the RX 350. As a result, sales soared - in the United States. Buyers were found in Europe and the rest of the world, but compared to sales in the United States only in homeopathic doses. The RX became the best-selling vehicle in its class in the United States.
Only another car generation later, from 2005, Lexus, after all, the subsidiary of Toyota, ventured to Japan. To date, all Lexus models have been produced there, but none sold under the brand name. Customers received similar, if not identical, models from Toyota. The step into the home market went hand in hand with a modernization of design and technology and the further expansion of the portfolio. With LS, GS and IS, Lexus now offered three sedans as competitors to the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes E and S Class, and also the RX as an alternative to the M Class or BMW X5.
They opted for a uniform design language called L-Finesse, which linked conservative and elegant forms with Japanese symbolism, a path that Mazda has since followed with the Kodo design, but with a sportier focus. Technically, however, one went on a special way. Inspired by the success of the Toyota Prius, Lexus opted for hybrid drive and combined it with sporty driving performance. "Consumption like a four-cylinder, power like an eight-cylinder" was the message with which potent six-cylinder hybrids were advertised as an alternative to local power diesels.
In addition, expensive advertising campaigns were launched in Germany and more than 40 car dealerships were upgraded to Lexus forums. Customers should be offered a special shopping and service experience there. In the meantime, Lexus registrations in Germany rose to more than 5.000 units a year. Remarkable, but far from becoming a competition for Mercedes and Co. They had been overtaken in the States by now.
With the hybrid drive in the premium area, it was possible to secure a solitary role in public. Lexus even went so far as to offer the CT 200h compact model, a series that is only available with a hybrid drive. Actually consistent, because Lexus' hybrid share on the German and European market is currently 98 percent. It is only 27 percent worldwide.
Europe sees Lexus as a growth market. Around 60.000 vehicles are sold annually between Vladivostok and Marbella, a third of them in crisis-ridden Russia. Sales there, however, are still stable for premium brands, which is why you don't expect a dip in sales. Most of the Lexus in Western Europe buy the British. Most recently it was around 11.000 units a year. Overall, Alain Uyttenhoven, European CEO of the brand, expects growth rates of more than 20 percent in his area of responsibility.
However, especially in Germany, sales have dropped significantly in recent years. The KBA registered just 1.328 registrations for Lexus in 2014. Instead of over 40, there are now only 16 Lexus forums. But, according to Germany boss Ferry Franz, they are now selling more cars and working profitably. In the first quarter of 2015 there was an increase of 36 percent.
The new Lexus NX should help with increasing sales. The compact SUV attracts new customers who have so far not found anything in the brand's portfolio. And it embodies the new Lexus style in design. The subtle elegance of L-Finessse has given way to an edgy, playful, almost comic appearance that is supposed to represent youthful sportiness. "We know that this design is polarizing," explains Ferry Franz, "but it is opening up new, younger customers." The extremely well-designed grill was already evident in the current GS generation.
In general, with models such as the BMW M3 competitor IS F or the Coupé RC F, Lexus focuses on sportiness, which should also be found on the racetrack. Success in the actual home market of the USA in no way damages the turn to the sportiness shown. After two sales dips in a row as a result of the Lehmann crash and the tsunami in Japan, they caught up with Mercedes and BMW again. In 2014, an all-time high was registered for Lexus worldwide with 582.000 new registrations. 53 percent of them went to the USA.
Author: Günter Weigel / SP-X