The meeting was secret. 40 years ago in Japan, Toyota president Eiji Toyoda gathered a group of talented experts in a conference room and instructed them to build a car that would be better than the best cars in the world. Knowing it wouldn’t be cheap, he tossed a penny. The budget exceeded a billion dollars. Toyota has never spent so much money on any model before.
Not only that, as many as 4,000 people were given the job of making the new luxury car. people, including a surprising – even for today’s times – a number of about 1,500 builders and 60 stylists. The project got the code name “Krąg F” – F for the flag, i.e. the main symbol. The team was led by the ambitious Ichiro Suzuki.
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The task was more difficult because, in fact, until now Toyota had only one luxury car on its account – the Century limousine released in 1967. In addition, it was not produced outside Japan, so it had no chance to compete in Europe and USA and elite local brands. So how on earth was Toyota, a company with little experience in the luxury market, supposed to design a car that would beat, for example, Mercedes which has been known for almost a century?
There was a good staircase. Unfortunately, the first step turned out to be too steep.
Lexus history: you can’t build a car like this
When Akira Takahashi, the manager responsible for the implementation of cars in production, heard about the ideas of a new model, he said that such a large project could not be mass-produced – even with equipment such as Toyota, which is more advanced. in the world. Circle F head Ichiro Suzuki didn’t want to hear about it. He believed that if he accepted, it would be a normal car – and it had to be better than the best.
Lexus LS 400 (first generation; 1989-1994) and its chief designer Ichiro Suzuki
Suzuki did not allow Takahashi to defend himself. He persuaded, argued and persuaded. Finally, he threatened to leave Takahashi’s office only after Takahashi agreed to one prototype engine. Takahashi agreed.
As it turned out later, a total of 973 such examples were built. In addition, about a hundred cars crashed as part of crash tests. On top of that, an incredible 450 examples of the car itself were built. It was as Ichiro Suzuki wanted: compromise was not an option. Even for something as small as a key.
The Lexus Story: Perfection and the Shoebox
Ichiro Suzuki’s dedication was best illustrated by an incident that, many years later, was recounted in Automotive News by Dave Illingworth, one of the most important Americans in the F circuit. – normally. once every two weeks. On one such visit, in 1987, Suzuki showed him the key design of a new car. Illingworth began to wonder aloud if this feature would be too expensive to produce. Hearing that, Suzuki left the room.
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He returned a few minutes later with a shoebox. As it turned out, he had the keys to every car manufacturer in the world in it. Just to show that the Lexus key is the best.
Lexus LS 400: one of the many back (and unrealized) proposals
The body composition process was the same. 60 designers have prepared many proposals, of which as many as 14 have full-sized models – more than twice the usual. A modern ultrasound-based system was used to remove droplets from the side mirrors. Some of the sounds were also of the highest quality: the audio equipment was ordered from the legendary Nakamichi – his Dragon is still considered the greatest recorder in history. Materials, leather and wood were chosen from thousands of templates.
Lexus LS 400 (first generation; 1989-1994)
Quality, however, was not to be reduced to beautiful wood in the cockpit. The directional tolerance of the model was at least twice as accurate as usual. What’s more, for the first time in the fire industry, body laser welding was used. In total, the whole car was worked on for six years.
Great, but why? Why did Toyota spend over a billion dollars to build a car like this in the first place?
Lexus Story: Please Don’t Go
One of the most loyal fans of Toyota in the United States were the so-called. Baby Boomers, i.e. the generation of babies after the war. But even their loyalty had limits.
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In the early 1980s, boomers began to abandon Toyota for the first European brands – they got more than before, and their favorite manufacturer could not provide them with a luxury car. So the Japanese concern needed a large, luxurious model that would hold back the boomers. It will continue and, by the way, get a lot more – margins on luxury cars are usually higher than they are on regular cars. So the secret meeting in Eiji Toyoda and more than a billion dollars.
And here another staircase has risen – this time marketing. To Toyota’s surprise, it turned out that for Americans the most important thing is not, for example, performance, but a luxurious image, which Toyota did not have. Market research showed that this elegant model carefully developed in theory had no chance of success.
Lexus LS (first generation; 1989-1994)
Some managers therefore decided that Toyota was too popular a name to sell a luxury car under. We need to create a new brand, they suggested. This was met with opposition from some key figures at the Japanese headquarters, proud of the company’s success so far. How come the Toyota logo is not enough for a luxury car?
The most ardent advocates of the new brand were the bosses of Toyota Motor Sales USA, the American branch of the Japanese giant. After all, the main market for the new model was the United States, and who knew the taste there better than Toyota Motor Sales USA?
When the decision to start a separate brand was finally made, all that remained was to give it a name. Again – as in the design and engine – there was a large number of proposals to choose from. Serious candidates were Alexis and Lexis. Finally, in 1988, a winner was chosen. The best Toyota of all time was called Lexus.
Lexus story: what have you seen on the armrest?
The debut was scheduled for January 11, 1989. That Wednesday, at the Detroit Auto Show, the most important automotive event in America, a new model of the new brand debuted: the Lexus LS 400. LS for Luxury Sedan, 400 from a 4.0-liter V8 , i.e. the design selected from 973 prototypes.
Lexus LS 400 (first generation: 1989-1994)
The car attracted attention not only with its quality, but also with pneumatic suspension, electric height adjustment of the seat belts, photo rearview mirror, variable angle of the wipers or content of the armrest – there was a mobile phone under it .
Sales of the Lexus LS 400 began in the United States eight months later, in September 1989. Unfortunately, there was another level. And that’s where the whole project could fall with a crash.
One Lexus LS 400 owner reported cruise control failure. A few others felt that the third brake light was not very bright. All in all, it was just one defect and several ailments for eight thousand cars already sold, but even such details can spoil the emerging image of the young brand. What did Lexus do? Something that shocked the public – and probably the competition too.
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Lexus made a service point. But you don’t have to make an appointment at the dealer, go there, waste time on the spot and arrange a ride home, because the car stays in the workshop. No – Lexus employees collected all eight thousand LSs from their owners’ homes, made the necessary adjustments at the dealership, and then left each limousine at the door – washed, fueled and with gifts inside.
It was a shock – and a whole new level of customer service. News of Lexus’ royal treatment of customers began to spread rapidly. The fledgling Japanese brand couldn’t have wished for a better advertisement.
Lexus story: Mercedes passed
This popularity and a large number of successful models began to produce surprising results. Already in 1991 – in its second full year on the market – Lexus sold more new cars in the United States than BMW and more than Mercedes, making it the most popular foreign car brand in the United States. In the same year, in JD Power’s highly regarded ranking, Lexus won in as many as three categories: customer service, product quality and brand satisfaction.
Lexus LS 400 (first generation; 1989-1994)
Finally, in 1998, Lexus won the title of the most purchased car brand in the USA, surpassing even the original Cadillac. And in 2005, Lexus sales in the United States surpassed the 300,000 mark. units, which last happened to a luxury manufacturer 19 years earlier – and it was Cadillac. Eiji Toyoda and Ichiro Suzuki got their way.