Lexus originated from a clandestine flagship sedan project which began in 1983. This effort developed into the original Lexus LS, which was the first vehicle to wear the Lexus marque upon its launch in 1989. In following years, Lexus added sedan, coupe, and SUV models. Hybrid drivetrains arrived in 2005, and the F-marque performance division debuted in 2007. From the start of production, Lexus vehicles have been consistently produced in Japan, with manufacturing centered in the Chūbu and Kyūshū regions. Assembly of the first Lexus built outside the country, the Ontario, Canada-produced RX, began in 2003.
Since 1989, Lexus has developed a reputation for vehicle reliability and customer service, as measured by independent surveys. In 2007, consumer ratings firm J.D. Power and Associates named Lexus the most reliable brand in the U.S. for the thirteenth year based on its Vehicle Dependability Survey, a measure of over 53,000 vehicle owners and problems experienced in the first three years of vehicle ownership. In recent years, Consumer Reports has also named Lexus among the top five most reliable brands in its Annual Car Reliability Surveys of over one million vehicles across the U.S.
Lexus' slogan is The Pursuit of Perfection.
In 1983, Toyota Chairman Eiji Toyoda summoned a secret meeting of company executives, to whom he posed the question, “Can we create a luxury vehicle to challenge the world's best?” This question prompted Toyota to embark on a top-secret project, codenamed F1 (“Flagship” and “No. 1 vehicle”). The F1 project, which eventually became known as the Lexus LS 400, aimed to develop a luxury car that would expand Toyota’s product line, giving it a foothold in the premium segment and offering both longtime and new customers an upmarket product. The F1 project followed the success of the Toyota Supra sports car and the luxury Toyota Cressida models. Both the Supra and Cressida were rear-wheel drive cars with a powerful 7M-GE/7M-GTE engine. The U.S. launch of the Acura marque by Honda three years prior also influenced Toyota in its plans for a luxury division. Around this same time, Nissan would unveil plans to create its own luxury division, Infiniti, while Mazda also considered developing a luxury division.
Toyota researchers visited the U.S. in May 1985 to conduct focus groups and market research on luxury consumers. That summer, several F1 designers rented a home in Laguna Beach, California, to observe the lifestyles and tastes of American upper-class consumers. Toyota’s market research concluded that a separate brand and sales channel was needed to present its new luxury flagship, and plans were made to develop a new network of dealerships in the U.S. market.
In 1986, Toyota’s longtime advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi formed a specialized unit, Team One, to handle marketing for the new luxury brand. Image consulting firm Lippincott & Margulies was hired to develop a list of 219 prospective names; Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis were chosen as top candidates. While Alexis quickly became the front runner (also associated with the Alexis Carrington character on the popular 1980s primetime drama Dynasty) and later morphed to Lexus, the name has been attributed to the combination of the words "luxury" and "elegance. According to Team One interviews, the name has no specific meaning and simply denotes a luxurious and technological image, although Lexus in Australia claim the original name is short for Luxury Export to United States. (LExUS).
Just prior to the release of the first vehicles, database service LexisNexis obtained a temporary injunction forbidding the name Lexus from being used as they stated it might cause confusion. Upon reflection, the court lifted the injunction, deciding that there was a low likelihood of confusion between the two products.
The original Lexus slogan, developed after Team One representatives visited Lexus designers in Japan and noted their obsessive attention to detail, became "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection."
The Lexus logo was developed by Molly Designs and Hunter Communications. The final design for the Lexus logo featured a stylized “L” within an oval, and according to Toyota was rendered using a precise mathematical formula. The first teaser ads featuring the Lexus name and logo, designed by Team One, appeared at the Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York auto shows in 1988.
In 1989, after an extended development process involving 60 designers, 24 engineering teams, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 220 support workers, around 450 prototypes, and over $1 billion in costs, the F1 project was completed. The resulting flagship, the Lexus LS 400, had a unique design, sharing no major elements with previous Toyota vehicles, with a new 4.0 L V8 gasoline engine and rear-wheel drive. Testing locations for the LS 400 included the German autobahn.
The LS 400 debuted in January 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The following September, Lexus vehicles officially went on sale at a network of 81 new Lexus dealerships across the U.S. The LS 400 was sold along with a smaller sibling, the Toyota Camry-based ES 250. The launch of Lexus was heralded by a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in both television and print media. Lexus subsequently began sales in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia starting in 1990.
The LS 400 was widely praised for its silence, well-appointed and ergonomic interior, engine performance, build quality, aerodynamics, fuel economy, and value, though it was criticized by some automobile columnists for anonymous styling and a suspension regarded as too compromising of handling for ride comfort. The LS 400 debuted at $38,000 in the U.S. (in some markets, it was priced against mid-sized six cylinder Mercedes-Benz and BMW models), and was rated by Car and Driver magazine as better than both the $63,000 Mercedes-Benz 420 SEL and the $55,000 BMW 735i in terms of ride, handling and performance. It was generally regarded as a major shock to the European marques; BMW and Mercedes-Benz's U.S. sales figures dropped 29% and 19%, respectively, with the then-BMW chairman Eberhard von Kuenheim accusing Lexus of dumping in that market. The LS 400 also won several major motoring awards when released.
In 1990, during its first full-year of sales, Lexus sold 63,594 LS 400 and ES 250 sedans in the U.S., the vast majority being of the LS model. By 1991, sales had increased to 71,206 cars in the U.S. market, making Lexus the top-selling luxury import in the U.S. That same year, Lexus earned first place in J.D. Power’s studies on initial vehicle quality, customer satisfaction, and sales satisfaction.
Lexus introduced two new models in June and September 1991, the SC 400 coupe and ES 300 sedan. The SC 400 (designed in tandem with the Japanese market Toyota Soarer) shared the LS 400’s V8 engine and rear-wheel drive design, while the ES 300 replaced the ES 250 and became Lexus’ best-selling sedan. The GS series came to America in 1993, based on the Toyota Aristo, which had sold for two years prior in Japan. In 1994, Lexus introduced the second generation LS 400, a complete redesign of the flagship model.
In 1996, Lexus added its first luxury sport utility vehicle, the LX 450. Two years later, Lexus debuted the first luxury crossover SUV, the RX 300, the second generation of the GS 300/GS 400 sedans and a new entry-level sedan, the IS 300. The RX quickly became Lexus' best-selling model, displacing the ES, the previous best-seller. In 1999, Lexus recorded its one-millionth vehicle produced for the U.S. market, and ranked as the top-selling luxury automobile make in the United States overall. In 2001, Lexus introduced its first convertible, the SC 430, and the third generation LS 430.
In 2005, Lexus expanded its lineup with the debut of the world’s first hybrid luxury SUV, the RX 400h. The vehicle's Lexus Hybrid Drive system combined gas and electric motors for increased power, improved fuel efficiency, and lower emissions relative to traditional, gas-powered equivalents. In 2006, Lexus unveiled the GS 450h, a performance hybrid sedan with a V6 gas-electric powertrain and rear-wheel drive.
In 2006, Lexus premiered the fourth generation flagship LS Series, adding both standard and long wheelbase versions (LS 460 and LS 460 L), hybrid models (LS 600h and LS 600h L), and an automated parallel/reverse parking feature. In 2007, the LS 600h L went on sale as the most expensive luxury vehicle ever produced in Japan, with a sticker price of approximately $125,000.
In January 2007, Lexus announced a new F-marque performance division, which would produce racing-inspired versions of its luxury performance vehicles. The first of this line, the Lexus IS F, made its debut at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, accompanied by an exotic supercar concept, the LF-A. By 2007, Lexus' annual U.S. sales had risen to 329,177 vehicles. In terms of volume, Lexus was the number one selling luxury marque in the largest automotive market for the past seven years consecutively, and the fourth-largest luxury car brand in the world by volume. In 2006, Lexus sold approximately 475,000 vehicle sales worldwide, and entered Interbrand's list of the Top 100 Global Brands for the first time with an estimated brand value of approximately $3 billion annually.
|Global vehicle sales||Units|
|U.S. vehicle sales||Units|
|Sport utility vehicles||128,843|
Total worldwide Lexus sales reached 500,000 vehicles in 2007. That year, the largest Lexus sales markets, in order of size, were the U.S., Japan, U.K., China, Canada, and Russia.
In the European market, Lexus has long struggled with smaller brand recognition, perceived lack of prestige compared to Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, and Jaguar, minor market share, and the lack of an independent dealership network. Lexus announced plans in 2005 to introduce its first hybrid and diesel vehicles and expand the number of dedicated dealerships. In 2006, the newly introduced diesel IS 220d mainly accounted for sales increases in the United Kingdom; hybrids accounted for a quarter of total sales and outsold their petrol counterparts. The London congestion charge has added incentive by excluding hybrid vehicles. In 2006, 80% of all RX models sold in Europe were of the hybrid model. Total Lexus Europe sales increased 72% in 2006 to over 50,000 vehicles, held flat in 2007 and started dropping in 2008.
As of 2008, global Lexus Division product strategy is headed by Kiyotaka Ise, General Manager of the Lexus Development Center in Japan. Ise, a Managing Officer in Toyota Motor Corporation's executive leadership, succeeded previous head Takeshi Yoshida, who was promoted to Senior Managing Director on the Toyota board in June 2007. Other Lexus Japan executives include Yoichiro Ichimaru, Senior Managing Director of Lexus Japan Sales & Marketing, and Toshio Furutani, Managing Officer at the Lexus Product & Marketing Planning Division.
In the United States, Lexus operations are headed by Mark Templin, group Vice President and General Manager of the U.S. Lexus Division. In Europe, Lexus operations are headed by Andy Pfeiffenberger, Vice President of Lexus Europe.
Lexus design has traditionally placed an emphasis on targeting specific luxury vehicle standards. Since the first Lexus LS, design targets include aerodynamics, performance, smooth ride, interior ergonomics, quiet cabins, fuel efficiency, safety, and reliability. The acronym "IDEAL"' (Impressive, Dynamic, Elegant, Advanced, and Lasting) is used in the development process. Each Lexus vehicle must fulfill over 500 specific product standards known as "Lexus Musts" ranging from steering wheel responsiveness to leather seat stitching.
In the vehicle cabin, Lexus has incorporated touchscreen navigation system interfaces, a smartkey entry and startup system, SmartAccess, and electroluminescent Optitron gauges (first introduced on the original LS). Dealer-adjusted Lexus Personalized Settings allow owners to customize operation of vehicle features.
Lexus vehicles were among the first to offer surround sound premium audio systems, partnering in 1989 with stereo firm Nakamichi and since 2001 with high-end audio purveyor Mark Levinson. In conjunction with premium audio, cabin quiet is aided by sandwich steel plates and acoustic glass.
The fourth generation LS introduced the first production eight-speed automatic transmission (later adapted for the GS 460 and IS F), and the first ceiling climate diffusers and infrared body temperature sensors in automobiles. The Lexus Hybrid Drive systems used on the RX, GS, and LS hybrids incorporate electrical motors and regenerative braking.
Safety features which have been incorporated on multiple vehicles of the Lexus lineup include the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) stability/traction control systems, Emergency Steering Assist, twin-chambered passenger airbags, knee airbags, backup cameras, swivel headlights, and sonar warning systems. The Lexus Pre-Collision System (PCS) integrates multiple safety systems along with emergency avoidance and collision detection capabilities.
In 2007, Lexus introduced the world's first automotive safety systems with infrared and pedestrian detection capabilities, lane keep assist, facial recognition monitoring of driver attentiveness, and rear pre-collision whiplash protection, as part of the LS 460 pre-collision system. In 2008, Lexus debuted the LS 600h L, the first production vehicle to use LED headlamps. Pre-2007 models come with a hidden OEM override option.
In contrast to some earlier Lexus models, which were criticized for reserved and derivative styling (and often mistaken for understated domestic market cars), the debut of L-finesse was described in automotive design analyses as adding a distinctive nature and embrace of Japanese design identity. Opinions varied for the 2006 GS; Sports Car International's design analysis found that the vehicle looked better in person than in photos and praised its overall appearance, while Automobile Magazine suggested that the model was insufficiently daring, particularly in its forward styling. Later models, such as the Jaguar XF, were said to resemble elements of the 2006 GS design. Exhibitions of L-finesse artwork were presented at the Milan Design Week from 2005-2008; the 2007 LS launch included art shows in Beverly Hills, Chicago, Miami, and New York City.
Lexus manufacturing techniques include methods and standards of quality control that differ from Toyota models. At the Tahara plant, separate assembly lines were developed for the manufacture of Lexus vehicles. New molds and specialized manufacturing equipment were also developed for the Lexus production process. Lexus plant workers, typically veteran technicians, are identified via repeated performance evaluations and ranked according to skill grade; only a select group of craftspeople are eligible to work on Lexus vehicles. In addition, welding processes, body panel fit tolerances, and paint quality requirements are more stringent for Lexus models. Wood inlays are matched by tree from sustainable plantations.
|Assembly sites by model|
|Tahara, Aichi||LS, GS, IS, GX|
|Kyushu, Fukuoka||ES, IS, RX|
|Higashi Fuji, Shizuoka||SC|
Lexus engines are tested by stethoscope-equipped takumi (匠, Japanese for "master craftsmen") engineers to ensure optimum performance. These engineers are responsible for maintaining production standards at key points in the assembly process. Each production Lexus vehicle is given an extensive visual inspection for flaws, individually test-driven at high speed, and subjected to vibration tests to ensure a quiet ride.
The North American-market RX 350 (since the 2004 model year) is produced in the city of Cambridge, in Ontario, Canada, and is the first Lexus plant located outside of Japan. In addition to the Tahara factory, Lexus vehicles have been produced at the Araco, Kanji (Iwate), Kanji (Kanto Jidosha), Katashiki, and Kyushu plants in Japan. As of 2008, most sedan and SUV production occurs in Japan at the Tahara, Aichi, plant in the Chūbu region, and at the Kyushu (Miyata), Fukuoka plant in the Kyūshū region.
To improve customer service, some Lexus dealerships have sent their employees to train at service-focused establishments such as Nordstrom department stores and Ritz-Carlton hotels. Lexus has also recently added an additional owners' privilege, the use of exclusive parking lots at major sporting arenas, entertainment events, and shopping malls, reserved only for Lexus vehicles.
Since 2002, Lexus has scored consecutive top ratings in the Auto Express and 76,000-respondent Top Gear customer satisfaction surveys in the U.K. Lexus has also repeatedly topped the 79,000-respondent J.D. Power Customer Service Index and Luxury Institute, New York surveys in the U.S. On the strength of its customer service and product satisfaction standards, Lexus enjoys one of the highest customer loyalty rates in the industry.
Lexus' customer service efforts date from the outset with the "Lexus Covenant," its founding promise which states that "Lexus will treat each customer as we would a guest in our home. This commitment was put to an early test in 1989 when Lexus ordered a recall of all 8,000 vehicles sold, based upon two separate safety issues with two different customers' cars. One dealership recalled that the "company didn't run and hide," instead launching a sweeping operation. Instead of asking owners to visit dealers, Lexus sent technicians within weeks to pick up, repair, and return the LS cars to the customers, even flying in personnel and renting garage space for owners in remote locations. The general manager of Lexus U.S.A. said, "We saw it as an opportunity to cement our relationship with the customer right from the beginning."
In the U.S., Lexus offers a four-year or basic and six-year or powertrain/corrosion warranty. Lexus' Certified Pre-Owned program, among the first in the automotive industry (begun in November 1993), features a 161-point inspection of pre-owned vehicles and a three-year or limited warranty. In 2005, Lexus Financial Savings Bank, in conjunction with US Bank, launched a Lexus Pursuits Visa Card. Lexus Magazine features automotive and lifestyle articles and is issued quarterly.
Lexus first entered the motorsport arena in 1999 when its racing unit, Team Lexus, fielded two GS 400 race vehicles in the Motorola Cup North American Street Stock Championship. In its 1999 inaugural season, Team Lexus achieved its first victory with its sixth race at Road Atlanta. That year, Team Lexus also attained four podium finishes in nine races and held two track records. Led by SCCA and IMSA driver Chuck Goldsborough, Team Lexus raced to a second victory, two podium finishes, and three top-five finishes in 2000. Team Lexus ranked third overall in the manufacturers championship that year, which each GS 400 race achieving a top ten result.
In 2001, Team Lexus capitalized on the debut of the first generation Lexus IS by entering three IS 300s in the renamed Grand-Am Cup (now run by the Grand American Road Racing Association). By 2002, Team Lexus had won the Drivers Championship and Team Championship with nine podium finishes, and a sweep of the top three finishes at Le Circuit Mont Treblant in Quebec, Canada. In 2003, Team Lexus achieved four pole positions, six podium finishes, two track records at Daytona 24 and Mosport, and a victory at Miami-Homestead.
Lexus has also participated in endurance racing, in particular the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, sanctioned by the Grand American Road Racing Association. After entering the Rolex Sports Car Series in 2004, Lexus has won over 15 Rolex Series event races. In 2005, Lexus was runners-up and in 2006 it won the championship. Although Toyota has won this prestigious race in the past it was the first time that its luxury arm emerged as the winner. In 2007, six Lexus-powered Daytona prototypes were entered in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona event at the Daytona International Speedway. Lexus was a repeat winner of the event, with a Lexus-Riley prototype driven by Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Salvador Durán of Chip Ganassi Racing finishing first; Lexus-Riley prototypes also took three of the top ten spots. In 2008, Lexus won its third consecutive win at Daytona.
After the release of the Lexus brand on the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) in 2005, four SC 430 coupes were entered in the Super GT series in the GT500 class. In the first race of the 2006 series, an SC 430 took the chequered flag, and drivers André Lotterer and Juichi Wakisaka raced the SC 430 to capture the GT500 championship for that year. In 2007 another SC 430 won the GT500 opening round race. In 2006, Lexus raced a hybrid vehicle for the first time, entering a GS 450h performance hybrid sedan in the Tokachi 24-hour Race in Hokkaido, Japan. Lexus Canada entered the GS 450h in 2007's Targa Newfoundland event.
In December 2006, Lexus announced its new F-performance division. The "F" refers to the Fuji Speedway in Japan, whose first corner, 27R, inspired the shape of the "F" emblem. The first "F"-badged vehicle, the Lexus IS F, subsequently premiered at the North American International Auto Show in January 2007. Media reports suggested that the IS F sedan would be followed by a GS F sedan and Lexus IS F coupe. An earlier in-house tuning effort, the TRD-based L-Tuned, had offered performance packages on the IS and GS sedans in the early 2000s.
The IS F is targeted at rivals from Mercedes-Benz's AMG and BMW's M divisions. Historically, past versions of the SC and GS models have received favorable reactions from sport luxury buyers, while other Lexus models have been characterized as favoring comfort at the expense of sporty performance. Automotive reviewers have also given some of Lexus' German rivals higher marks for road feel and handling, especially during racetrack testing. The F-marque line has been seen as an effort to further bolster Lexus' performance credentials.
In 2007, Lexus entered the IS F in the 2007 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, offering a factory sanctioned performance accessory line in conjunction with the debut of its F-marque division.
Lexus’ strategic intentions are hinted at in its LF Series concepts, elements of which have translated into production form (including the 2003 LF-S and 2004 LF-C). The LF Series concepts include advanced instrumentation, multiple driver-selected vehicle configurations, hybrid/experimental powertrains, and unconventional driver interface designs. Lexus Managing Officer, Takeshi Yoshida, has further stated Lexus' intentions to produce future production models using more dedicated Lexus platforms, as is the case for the LS flagship. The entry-level Lexus ES, in particular, had been chided for being too similar to the Toyota Camry, its shared platform cousin, in both styling and powertrain design.
According to division executives, Lexus plans to introduce Lexus Hybrid Drive on every vehicle in the Lexus lineup, catering to demands for a decrease in both carbon pollution and oil reliance. The advent of Lexus hybrid technology is touted by Lexus officials as a strategy for raising the profile of Lexus in countries with greater public perception of the Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Jaguar rival brands. New Lexus models in development also include convertibles, crossovers, and dedicated hybrids. Lexus prototypes have been spotted testing at the Nürburgring test track in Germany.
Additionally, automotive analysts have noted Lexus' relative newcomer status in the luxury market, compared with the storied reputation of its European rivals, as a limiting factor for its initial sales acceptance in worldwide markets. Rivals Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Porsche have stressed their decades of heritage and pedigree in an effort to promote their products, whereas since its inception Lexus' reputation rests primarily upon its perceived product quality and the shared history of its parent company, Toyota. The characteristics of heritage, built up over many years, and pedigree, are regarded by some reviewers as a challenge for Lexus, although their impact is debated. Ultimately, a number of analysts have stated that Lexus will have to develop its own heritage over time by investing in technological innovations and producing substantial products.
Several of Lexus' ideas on the future of automotive design have appeared on film. In 2002, Lexus was requested by Steven Spielberg, a Lexus owner himself, to design a vehicle which would fit the requirements of year 2054 for his movie Minority Report. Designers working with Lexus came up with an advanced vehicle which would run on fuel cells and have many advanced safety features including a crash-proof structure and biometric security systems. (Lexus' cinematic concept car also appears in The Island, though it is colored blue, not red). A Lexus film tie-in site proposed a Lexus future vehicle that would drive itself, take dinner orders verbally, and select music to match occupant moods. The Lexus 2054 later appeared at several auto shows and public events.
The term "the Lexus of..." has also entered the cultural lexicon as a description of a high-end product, or an upscale brand produced by a mainstream manufacturer. For example, in 2006 Dell announced a premium lineup of computers, calling it "the Lexus of our lineup. Further example comparisons include "the Lexus of phones" or "the Lexus of space stations", among others. Late night comedian Jay Leno first coined the term "Lexus-ized" for his automotive columns in Popular Mechanics, an expression generally used to describe the Lexus approach to luxury motoring. Despite the official pluralized form of Lexus being simply Lexus, the public has also made its own derivatives (the most popular derivative being "Lexi"). The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman cited Lexus as an example of the drive for prosperity and development in his best-selling 1999 book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.
In the U.K., the LS 430 flagship was introduced in the BBC spy drama, Spooks; Lexus models were also placed on ITV's Coronation Street, the BBC's Judge John Deed, and other programs. Lexus GB models saw sales increases after being seen on ITV's Footballers' Wives. In 2002, comedian Steve Coogan's fictional BBC Alan Partridge character replaced his Rover with an IS 200, calling it the "Japanese Mercedes" and one of many "Lexi"; his superficial character was seen as detrimental to the brand's image. By 2004, multiple hip-hop artists, including Jay-Z (in the song "Ain't No Nigga") and Kanye West (in the song "Jesus Walks"), made mention of Lexus vehicles in their songs, an endorsement which Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson suggested added street credibility for the brand.
The introduction of Lexus hybrids have garnered further media attention through celebrity RX 400h owners such as Dustin Hoffman, Diane Keaton, and Holly Hunter, who were among the earliest adopters of the Lexus Hybrid Drive technology. Politicians in the U.K. and Ireland have acquired Lexus hybrids, along with government agencies. In Monaco, Prince Albert II purchased an LS 600h and advocated the adoption of hybrid tax credits.
Since 1989, the annual Lexus Champions for Charity golf series has raised over $100 million for charity causes. The golf series begins with over 190 local golf tournaments around the U.S., leading to a three-day championship tournament at Pebble Beach. Lexus has also been a primary sponsor of the US Open tennis Grand Slam event since 2005, awarding a GS sedan (and later an IS F) to the men's and women's singles champions, and providing player transportation. In January 2007, Lexus became the first automotive sponsor of the United States Golf Association at its U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Senior Open, and U.S. Amateur tournaments. Other Lexus sponsorships vary by region (examples include the Lexus Cup in Singapore and Australia and Lexus Song Quest singing competition in New Zealand). Lexus has also signed endorsement contracts with pro athletes Andy Roddick, Annika Sörenstam, and Peter Jacobsen.