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.
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.
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”
Casting a covetous gaze, Miles across the ocean. Japan-wards.
Global warming, derisory interest rates, carbon footprints and theatrical leaders – our concerns may skirt those borders but we choose to look beyond them. Further to our recent gaze Eastwards, I have been looking into just what is available from our Japanese cousins, purely for research purposes, you understand.
Several different car club members of my acquaintance have purchased a car from Japan. A Mercedes C180 whose specification resembles nothing to what one buys in Europe, rust-free Lancias, and MX-5s bought on the basis of originality. That’s a pretty wide range of types and pricing. But all were purchased here in the UK, meaning that someone else did the importation and paperwork.
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”
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?”