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Toyota's car-buff president makes Lexus his pet project

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Old 05-05-13, 11:49 PM   #1
natnut
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Default Toyota's car-buff president makes Lexus his pet project

Akio Takes The Wheel

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NEW YORK -- By Akio Toyoda's own admission, his beloved Lexus luxury brand has a big problem.

Unlike its German rivals, Lexus has no heritage, no narrative.

Now the Toyota Motor Corp. president is investing himself personally in the brand by taking direct control of all things Lexus. His new role at Lexus' helm was a significant, yet largely overlooked, step in a sweeping management overhaul he unveiled in March.

In an interview prior to a Lexus event here, Toyoda said his goal is to imbue Lexus with more of the founding family's legacy and his own personal taste in cars. Toyoda said his job will be looking at the lineup with the "right side of the brain."

Toyoda, 57, said Lexus was derailed by bean counters during Toyota's decade of explosive growth. Now it is in the hands of the company's No. 1 car guy: Akio Toyoda.

In March, Toyoda reorganized the company by splitting it into four parts. One develops Toyota-brand vehicles for mature markets such as the United States and Japan. Another develops Toyota vehicles for emerging markets. A third conducts r&d on core shared technologies, such as engines and transmissions. And Lexus was carved out as the fourth stand-alone unit.

The other business units have an executive vice president who reports to Toyoda. But for Lexus, the president cut out the middleman.

The shift carries risks, not the least of which is anchoring the brand's image to the whims of a single executive. Toyoda is putting his own reputation -- and possibly his job -- on the line if his gambit falls short.

"What other brands have, but Lexus lacks, is a story, its own story, narrative or history," Toyoda said before the April 19 launch party for a global marketing campaign for Lexus. "I think the contents I can bring, as the head of a global company, also as a racing driver and as part of the founding family, could be conducive to story-making for Lexus."

Toyoda plans to leave his own fingerprints on the brand by:

• Strengthening Lexus' identity apart from Toyota.

• Injecting more flash into styling.

• Making the brand known for handling and driving qualities.

"When we have a design screening, my role is to simply talk with the right side of the brain," Toyoda said. "There are already enough people at Toyota who use the left side of the brain. You need to be able to say, 'Wow! I want that!'"

Lexus clearly trails German luxury brands in the legacy category.

Toyota Motor, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary, rose from its humble origins as a spinoff from a loom maker to become the world's largest automaker.

But its Lexus brand dates back to just 1989 -- more than century after German engineer Karl Benz founded Mercedes-Benz in 1886.

And Lexus was conceived more as a premium sales channel than as a stand-alone marque, Toyoda said. For years after Lexus' debut in the United States, its nameplates were also sold in Japan as Toyotas.

"Lexus was born as a channel," Toyoda said. "One decision this time around is to really nurture and develop Lexus as a brand."

In 2012, Lexus' global sales climbed 23 percent to 477,000 units, as supply rebounded after being cut by the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

This year, worldwide sales should top 500,000 -- just shy of their all-time high of 518,300 in 2007, said Mark Templin, executive vice president of Lexus International.

In the United States, sales peaked at 329,177 in 2007, capping 12 straight years of growth. They slid in three of the five years since, with the only increases being a 6 percent gain in 2010 and a 23 percent rise, to 244,166, last year. Templin aims to surpass 260,000 in 2013.

Yet sales are still below those of the glory days.

Through April, U.S. sales rose 12 percent to 74,831, putting Lexus off the pace of its 2013 target. Lexus also trailed both Mercedes and BMW, as it has in recent years after a long run as the top-selling U.S. luxury brand.

Toyoda said he isn't focused on the numbers. As the final arbiter on Lexus, his job is the soft side. His top priorities for improving the brand are better styling and handling -- not necessarily customer service, premium features or added bells and whistles.

His own opinions about what the cars should be often butt heads with those of the Toyota bureaucracy. But Toyoda said that the jousting of opinions, a rarity in the past, is needed to churn out better cars.

"By having competition and conflict between the ideas that the bureaucracy has and my own personal concept of what the Lexus brand should be, that will bring us closer to what Lexus should be and the polished gem I want it to be," Toyoda said.

The downside: the plan largely hinges on the boss' own tastes.

"If it doesn't go well, he's putting himself at personal risk," said Chris Richter, an analyst with CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Tokyo. "But he could also be taking a risk by doing nothing. At least he knows what cars are all about."

Toyoda wants engineers to think more with their gut and less with their calculators, and cites the LF-LC sports coupe concept shown at the 2012 Detroit auto show.

Lexus executives originally brought the sculpted, low-slung rear-wheel-drive luxury hybrid to him as a pitch for their ultimate dream car. The debate that followed signaled changing attitudes.

"Before, we'd begin by talking about how many units we can sell, how much money we can make. Now, before even doing that, we're starting with, 'Wow, I want to build that car,'" Toyoda said. "We are now moving in the direction of a new Lexus."



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Old 05-06-13, 01:29 AM   #2
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Well, Lexus is still building that heritage. Next year the brand will celebrate its 25th anniversary. In automobile history that's a drop in the bucket, but it's still a significant amount of time. They are still building their brand globally and rebuilding it in the US. With the NX, RC, LC, the next LS coming within the next few years and the mere existence of the F models, I would say that Lexus is in a great position, even more so now that Toyoda has his own personal hand in it.

They're not perfect (hello, no USB and IS300h in the US???), but I am more than pleased.
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Old 05-06-13, 02:09 AM   #3
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Every change is slow and we should probably see effects of his work only in next generation cars like new GS or IS or on completely new models which could make it a bit faster. In other words don't expect miracles in new RX
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Old 05-06-13, 07:55 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by natnut View Post

Lexus clearly trails German luxury brands in the legacy category.
What? Building engines for the Luftwaffe or limos for the Fuhrer?

The Germans would be well served not to attract attention to their "legacy",
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Old 05-06-13, 11:00 AM   #5
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Toyoda, 57, said Lexus was derailed by bean counters during Toyota's decade of explosive growth. Now it is in the hands of the company's No. 1 car guy: Akio Toyoda.
Let's do this
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Old 05-06-13, 12:06 PM   #6
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Approve. Akio is the man
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Old 05-06-13, 12:12 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by mrraider View Post
What? Building engines for the Luftwaffe or limos for the Fuhrer?

The Germans would be well served not to attract attention to their "legacy",
Don't be so shallow, building engines for Luftwaffe was no different than building engines for Royal Air Force.
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Old 05-06-13, 12:37 PM   #8
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Looking forward for the next few yrs to see if Toyoda can bring the brand to the next level...
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Old 05-06-13, 12:39 PM   #9
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Don't be so shallow, building engines for Luftwaffe was no different than building engines for Royal Air Force.
Or Ford or GM building engines in WWII either.
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Old 05-06-13, 02:48 PM   #10
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Akio mentions the same things frustrating many of us here and Hoovy and I have been very vocal as late being Lexus enthusiasts who seem to be ignored and a brand dominated by beancounters who's idea of fun is ordering swirl ice cream. I hope he really listens to enthusiasts ala GT86 triplets and gets some new blood in there that are enthusiasts, REAL enthusiasts.

B/C while Lexus today are better built than the past they still lag behind product compared to the Germans who continue to be sexier, more aggressive and offer far more interesting and entertaining overall product lineups.

Its very good to hear how the CEO is truly vested into Lexus and wants to see it succeed.
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Old 05-06-13, 04:07 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Blueprint View Post
Akio mentions the same things frustrating many of us here and Hoovy and I have been very vocal as late being Lexus enthusiasts who seem to be ignored and a brand dominated by beancounters who's idea of fun is ordering swirl ice cream. I hope he really listens to enthusiasts ala GT86 triplets and gets some new blood in there that are enthusiasts, REAL enthusiasts.

B/C while Lexus today are better built than the past they still lag behind product compared to the Germans who continue to be sexier, more aggressive and offer far more interesting and entertaining overall product lineups.

Its very good to hear how the CEO is truly vested into Lexus and wants to see it succeed.
Yup! I have to wonder (in fact I know) some person at Lexus/Toyota comes onto CL and reads some of these posts. It would be absurd not to listen to enthusiasts and well respected folks of the Lexus community. Some of which have actually left Lexus (many to BMW) because Lexus has deserted them when it comes to product and tech offerings. They would be wise to listen to the people who essentially hold up the banner for Lexus.

Even things like limiting certain options to packages, I mean its sad. I can't get HUD in a GS for the West Coast region without a special order or dealer trade from the East Coast region. BMW and Porsche on the other hand let you have your cake and eat it too.

Lexus needs to step up, otherwise they'll be losing a repeat customer soon.
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Old 05-06-13, 06:45 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AUTONEWS
As the final arbiter on Lexus, his job is the soft side. His top priorities for improving the brand are better styling and handling -- not necessarily customer service, premium features or added bells and whistles
While it is great news that a CEO is "getting his hands dirty" to help with his product line, hopefully that last part will not be true.

Lexus may not have a long history or legacy, but every carmaker has their own "attributes" that make them unique.

Customer service, premium features for a lower entry price, and hybrid tech were one of Lexus's traditional strong points. It would be a shame to see those go down the drain in favor of sportiness.
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Old 05-06-13, 10:37 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by trexlexus View Post
While it is great news that a CEO is "getting his hands dirty" to help with his product line, hopefully that last part will not be true.

Lexus may not have a long history or legacy, but every carmaker has their own "attributes" that make them unique.

Customer service, premium features for a lower entry price, and hybrid tech were one of Lexus's traditional strong points. It would be a shame to see those go down the drain in favor of sportiness.
It says hes not touching those. So that should remain. He just wants the brand to be more sporty. Appealing to younger buyers is the way to go. Coupes and more F cars is great. Lexus will still be Lexus, just more appealing.
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Old 05-06-13, 10:50 PM   #14
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I don't know, I kind of disagree (I know...why am I disagreeing with Toyoda?), Lexus does have a story.

The original LS400 coming in and taking the market by surprise, and Lexus' pursuit of perfection and their legendary customer service. Lexus wasn't delivered by a magical stork but it still has a decent origin story.
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Old 05-07-13, 12:48 AM   #15
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I agree that the legacy of Lexus is a lot more deep than some give it credit for. The long development of the LS400 and the Lexus taking the market by storm upon introduction will be a huge part of their legacy and heritage.
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Old 05-07-13, 12:48 AM
 
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