Filling balloons with wet plaster, squeezing them into abstract shapes, photographing the amorphous images and projecting the slides on a wall may sound like the description of an LSD powered mind trip, but in this case it was a new and unprecedented way to design a car.
In 1987 Toyota started work on project F3, the planned successor to the then recently introduced Soarer Z20. Contrary to the previous Japanese domestic market-only model, the planned new car would also be marketed in North America under the upcoming Lexus brand. Since it was considered essential that the future car be a success in the North American market, the job was given to Calty Design Research – Toyota’s Californian design centre established in 1973.
Even before the C-19 pandemic swept away all previously held norms and nostrums, the motor industry had been undergoing something of a shakedown on a number of levels. Old orders were either tumbling or at the very least teetering on less than solid foundations, as customers voted, as they are prone to do, with their credit scores. Amid those sectors experiencing that unmistakable sensation of cold steel upon the nape of their necks was the upmarket-brand, rear-wheel-drive close-coupled sportive saloon.
An Urban Explorer makes a break for the coastline.
Life has been of late, more than a little, shall we say, constrained. Not that I’m necessarily complaining – it’s for the greater good and after all, matters could be a good deal worse – but from an automotive perspective, thus far, 2020 has been something of a damp squib. All this being so, one takes what thin gruel that comes one’s way.
While this could be just about what The Truth About Cars calls DLO fail, I’d like to take a slightly wider perspective today.
In 2005 Lexus began sales of this car, the XE20 iteration of the IS range. It had a good long run, until 2013. It represented part of a turn at Toyota/Lexus from fairly restrained design to more expressive forms. That could be seen as an effort to try to Continue reading “Frustration and Fury in Fergana”
Once Toyota had fixed their new sales horizon firmly upon the United States, there were bound to be some noses put out of joint. More tellingly, there were plenty of takers. Thirty years ago, the LS400 won over the hearts of wealthy Americans along with those seeking a more quality feel to what was otherwise being offered. The recipe was surprisingly simple. High-end engineering, longevity and product quality, be nice to customers at service or repair time. Ford and GM must have been on vacation.
Gaining that foothold in a predominantly stateside motoring landscape, with the Europeans snapping at the ankles, Lexus were refreshingly bold. Sales rattled up, announcing a sea change to the perceived automotive aristocracy. And that pitch continues today with ever more resonance: the vehicles have changed but not the philosophy.
Well, not quite, because while Lexus see themselves as purveyors of quality, luxurious transport these days, they no longer confine themselves to the tarmac roads. Anyone with the means can park their delightful Garnet Red LS, with added kiriko glass embellishments, at the golf course, gun club or shopping mall. But surely better to Continue reading “Got The Car? Get The Yacht”
The creative apex of Toyota and Lexus’ latterday ambitions – we examine the LF-A’s backstory.
With Lexus celebrating thirty years of production (though only fifteen in Japan, where until 2004 they were still Toyota) the Japanese firm are keen to share some of their three decades of stories. They are to be congratulated on their openness. Exactly five hundred Lexus LF-A’s were made over a two year period which equates to one built per day after holidays. By hand too I might add, no production line for this exclusive halo-car. As to their cost… we’ll come back to that shortly.
The Lexus Fuji-Apex was a true supercar from every conceivable angle but the car’s birth proved difficult. In fact for its short life, drama and tragedy clung to the cars flanks, fortunately bowing out on a high, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s Continue reading “Born of Frustration”
Let’s wind the clock back to see some thoughts on the SC from our recent history.
The RAC in 2008 said the car was “too soft for Europe” in both style and set up. Honest John (no date specified) thought red best to show off the shapely curves, whereas What Car? opined that non-metallic colours were less desirable, avoid red like the plague and choose black. Ok…
Parker’s have their Pro’s and Con’s section right at the top. Clear and concise, splendid. Pro’s: “Superbly built and reliable, excellent refinement and smooth V8“. Con”s: “Ugly (don’t Continue reading “10, 8, 6… (Part Two)”
We introduce something of a Japanese (and Toyota-based) micro-theme for the month of February, with an appreciation of a much maligned Grand Turismo from 1999.
No, this is not some Only Connect quiz show number sequence type thing. These numbers actually refer to a decade long tenure (including concept) run of a V8 motor who on its first day of public showing sold six examples. To which do we allude?
The Lexus Sports Coupé 430, a forgotten car, a misjudged one (in my eyes), and now mellowed in middle age.
Attempting to second-guess the United States customer has been the rock innumerable carmakers have perished upon over the past fifty years or so. It ought to be quite simple really. Large capacity engines, plenty of equipment, a sense of visual definition or style coupled with ease of operation. Durability too, since vehicles are likely to do large mileages in often hostile climatic conditions amid owners sometimes averse (it’s been alleged) to the prospect of preventative maintenance.
So much for generalisations, but those who have wilted under America’s often unyielding glare have largely failed to sufficiently cover the basics. Not so the Japanese, who like the Europeans before them learnt the hard way not only how difficult the US market can be to crack, but also how lucrative it could be if you Continue reading “Big Time”
In 1989, Toyota shot for the moon. Cars will never be made like this again.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do these other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” These are the much quoted words of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1962, pledging his country’s commitment for the Apollo space mission.
The Apollo programme cost $billions and was only a qualified success, insofar as it did not precipitate a more widespread and far-reaching programme of space exploration. It did however succeed in demonstrating what the American government could do when the finest minds were provided with almost unlimited resources to Continue reading “Moonshot”
Today’s Sunday sermon comes as something of a compare and contrast. Admittedly it also lays itself open to accusations of shooting fish in a barrel, but I’m prepared to take that risk. Here at Driven to Write, we have something of a soft spot for underdogs. However, some are more equal than others, and in the case of Lexus and in particular, the flagship LC 500, its continued lack of appeal to European eyes is mystifying.
In the year to June, the LC posted perhaps the greatest sales drop (58.5%) of any make or model across Europe. Which is proof, if proof were required that people’s taste is in their… well, perhaps you ought to Continue reading “Sublime to Ridiculous”
Our Sheffield correspondent’s urgent mission for Myristica fragrans is disrupted by something shiny and yellow.
Gulp. Sharp intake of breath. No, not because talking to the salesman makes me nervous but my first design review for this oftentimes design-centric website. If you have yet to see my takes on design, prepare to be deflated. I like what I see. Well, sometimes. Then again, sometimes I’m horrified by what’s presented in front of me. But in this particular instance I liked – a lot.
An errand into town forced me past the row of car dealerships that inhabit the fringes of town. Virtually every make is available within a three mile corridor and if you can’t Continue reading “Nut Job”
In 1998, Lexus took on BMW at its core discipline. How did that go?
In 1998 the Lexus brand had only reached its ninth birthday. Up until then it had two cars on sale in the Euromarket, the LS400 saloon and the GS300. With the LS200, Lexus extended its range into BMW 3-series territory. Was it a Good Thing? While consistency can be a bit tedious in the arts, in business it is generally a positive attribute. In some ways, Lexus had consistency nailed down. All their cars have been screwed together by black-belt, Olympic level robots and technicians.
The LS400 itself had already become a legend for quality. Intended to be the world’s best car until the next one came along, a case can be made that it is still the world’s best car when all measurable parameters have been balanced. In a more shallow way, Lexus did not manage consistency, not the kind valued by people who value consistency for its own sake and are utterly unwilling to Continue reading “Could Tiresias Have Foreseen This?”
As the motor industry presses towards widespread adaptation of electric vehicles, a notable voice sounds a cautious note.
As a rule, the motor industry prefers to speak with a unified voice on the wider issues which affect its interests. Certainly, when it comes to the subject of electric vehicles, the direction of current can probably be best described as direct. Or to put it another way, on this subject at least, most automotive CEOs are broadly speaking, on board.
As Germany’s full-sized luxury GTs lurch further into decadence and creative atrophy, we appraise (and praise) a Lexus.
Heritage has become something of a double edged sword for carmakers nowadays. On one hand, it acts as emotional anchor for a marque’s visual identity, and employed with sensitivity and skill, lends a tremendous richness to what marketers might choose to describe as the ‘brand narrative’.
On the other hand however, the anchor analogy can also have a regressive influence, dragging the marque backwards, preventing designers from updating or reinventing a set of visual cues which may over time have lost relevance.
This is really about an advertisement. The image is from Car magazine, July 2008…
…back in the day when a) I still bought it and b) when it still carried lots of advertising.
The Lexus IS, as standard, conformed to the Lexus template of being well-made and not wholly satisfying to look at. All the reviews I looked at bang on about Lexus being conservative which if taken in aggregate is a conservative attack on conservative design and comfy driving. Motoring journalists have their own conservatism which is that cars are better being aggressive and sporty. How about that for self-reflexivity. Well, Lexus decided that there was nothing for it but to Continue reading “Manchester, umbrellas lost in”
Despite this particular group of people hardly being renowned connoisseurs of the finer things in life, manufacturers try their utmost to make the Frankfurt Motor Show a palatable experience for the press. Do they succeed?
The IAA press days are all about hustle and bustle. Most attendees have appointments to make or deadlines to meet, which – coupled with the distances that need to be covered at Messe Frankfurt, not to mention the above average levels of dehydration, (courtesy of the halls’ air conditioning) one is afflicted with – can render grabbing a bite to eat a difficult necessity. Continue reading “IAA 2017: A Culinary Perspective”
Driven to Write has a thing about brightwork. We also have a thing about quality.
The 1990 Lexus LS400 famously had nitrogen-filled tyres because mere air caused a resonance. Despite the car’s astonishingly careful conception, these aren’t much loved and few are they now in number. It’s successor (above) is a crouton in the same soup bowl.
For years now, Lexus has stared enviously at Mercedes-Benz, hoping to emulate its success. Tired of second fiddle, is ‘the gentleman’ flinging his values on the fire?
Last year, a former Browns Lane insider described the advent of the 1989 Lexus LS 400 to me as being “chilling in every respect”. One can be equally sure that in Munich, Ingolstadt and Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, the intake of breath was no less sharp and the expletives no less lurid. That Lexus subsequently failed to achieve global cut-through over the intervening decades remains a matter for historians and academics to pick over, because the auguries at the time suggested Toyota would annihilate the opposition. Continue reading “Sexing-Up Lexus”
This image shows the interior of the Lexus UX concept car. There are functions and there are forms and there is no apparent bridge between them. I don’t believe the person who created this image had any idea how these forms would be realised in production. I think it’s okay to do free-form sketching in the initial stages of a design programme. It’s essential, even. Usually then the “feeling” of the first loose sketches get transferred to the structure of the likely interior components with changes made to both as the iterations are iterated. Continue reading “The Divorce of Form and Function”
These wilfully contrived C-pillars are a particularly nasty feature. I spent a very few minutes trying to see what the 2016 Lexus RX would look like with a revised sideglass and C-pillar.
You can see why the designer might do this but it still doesn’t make it right. On my revised version I scratched out the horrible bumper and sketched in some rectangles to suggest fog-lamps. Don’t look too close at the image. I don’t use Photoshop but a free programme called CrayonMoron.
Isn’t it interesting how a design feature sometimes pops up in unexpected places, or in cars that are totally unrelated?
I lately crossed the way of a 2006 Lexus IS, and especially its rear door shutline (basically, that’s what I looked at on all cars this month). It has an interesting treatment with its horizontal top part joining the curve of the rear window. Haven’t I seen that before? Right, it was there on the early Imprezas. Continue reading “Theme: Shutlines – The Fake Frameless Window Shutline”
My doesn’t time fly. And why are so many of my Sunday photos red?
“Breaking the copycat mould as crazy Lexus takes a swipe at Merc”, wrote Car on the front cover of their September 2000 edition. Lexus presented the SC430 first as a concept called the “Sport Coupe Concept”. The production car got a review in August 2001. So, this was one of those not-a-concept concept cars we could have discussed when ran our concept car theme in October 2015.
Legend has it that Lexus’ engineers explicitly used the 1991 BMW E-36 version of the 3 series as a benchmark for their 1999 IS200, right down to giving it rear wheel drive and a straight six engine.
By the time the IS200 came out, the E46 had replaced the E36. The benchmark that Lexus had chosen was obsolete. At this point BMW had settled on a slow detachment from its roots as a “hard as nails” small sports saloon and was well on the way to becoming, in ordinary trim versions, a Munich Mondeo, though to be fair, that’s unfair to Ford’s Mondeo of the same period. As I see it, the car Lexus benchmarked was already Continue reading “Theme: Benchmarks – The Moving Goalpost”
Lexus’ recent creative review ditched more than the message…
All good advertising embodies an essential truth. For some years now for instance, Lexus has gone with the tagline ‘The Pursuit of Perfection’; a relatively believable goal to envisage. However, despite some success in the US market, Lexus remains stubbornly among the junior ranks of the European prestige car business. In a fit of insecurity, Continue reading “Theme: Advertising – Off Message”