In September this year, Japan-headquartered premium auto marque Lexus turns 30 – surely a long time for any company, but truth be told a relatively youthful number when ranged against a handful of Lexus competitors in the segment.
But longevity is not a function of greatness. Indeed, Toyota Motor’s luxury brand consistently makes it to the list of top 10 Japanese global brands. And according to Forbes.com, Lexus now ranks fourth among premium automakers counting itself among much-older rivals Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW. In 2018, Lexus sold some 701,000 vehicles, up 4.9 percent from the previous year. Perhaps most notably, Lexus vehicles have been deemed the most dependable new cars the past eight years in the annual study conducted by JD Power & Associates.
But aside from its direct affinity with automotive leader Toyota, what do we really know about Lexus? Exactly. The brand has by and large let its vehicles do the talking throughout its history. Most notably, it has been known for dynamic design language – particularly the spindle grille.
Recently, Lexus did something rather out of character. People actually took the time to explain the brand and the values it represents and holds dear – this time unfettered from a specific model or launch.
Absolutely the first of its kind, the Lexus Cultural Experience was a veritable unspoiled walk into the world of the carmaker – and didn’t necessarily entail chucking vehicles at us. Rather, it proved to be a leisurely walk back to underlying philosophies.
Despite its world-beater mentality and sophistication, Lexus is unapologetically Japanese – and its people are finally ready to talk.
“The Japanese believe that each moment is fleeting,” prefaced Lexus International president Yoshihiro Sawa on the booklet handed to participants. “This is why each season is eagerly prepared for and well celebrated. It is also because of this that extraordinary effort goes into crafting perfect moments for each guest.”
Held in Japan, the trip was meant to be “an immersive experience in the land of (the) brand’s heritage, Japan – a country of global innovation, cutting-edge lifestyle and culture, and exquisite cuisine,” according to Lexus brand department vice president Carlo Ablaza, who accompanied this writer along with Alvin Uy on the highly curated trip for the senses. “This is the first time we’re doing something like this,” he underscored to C! Magazine.
Journalist delegates from all over the world were treated to a smorgasbord of experiences. We rode the shinkansen (bullet train), partook of excellent Nagoya unagi (eel) and the exotic fugu (pufferfish), put on a yukata (a kimono of light cotton), and were taught to do an onsen bath.
It was about noticing the details, whether in the “anticipatory hospitality” of those around us, or in the seeming minutia of doing things. Japan is, after all, teeming in ceremony, hospitality, and sensitivity.
And though we drove a couple of Lexus vehicles – including an excellent hybrid version of the quixotic LC 500 – the itinerary yielded no specific models of focus. Rather, driving them unhurriedly on pristine Japanese roads from the Shin-Yamaguchi Station down to the Miyata plant helped weave a consistent story as our senses were already keen on the values Lexus wanted to purvey. The vehicles are merely a cog in the wheel.
A highlight in a trip of highlights was a rare peek in the Lexus design “mother ship” at the Toyota City in the Aichi Prefecture. Described as the “nucleus” of the Toyota’s design activities since 1948, the “studio accommodates the entire creative process, from rough sketches to 3D renderings and prototypes. The top floor has a 200-ton retractable roof, so that new models can be scrutinized in daylight, in complete secrecy, while another floor is equipped with a full-size theater and a virtual reality suite for assessing computer-generated designs,” according to a Lexus release.
Obviously, there are lots of secret, proprietary goings on at the Design Dome, so we had to surrender our photographic equipment (including our smartphones). An audio recorder helped save the day as we had a rare sit-down key quotes of a precious sit-down with Lexus executives.
Togashi made reference to the Japanese culture to help explain what Lexus is all about. Do you know, for instance, that there are 400 Japanese expressions to describe rain? Do you also notice the fine attention to detail in, say, a Zen garden? Do you ever wonder why Japanese restaurants always provide diners with hot or cold towels? These moments of thoughtfulness form part of the Lexus DNA. That’s the kind of insight they want to translate into their vehicles – whether in the obsession with excellent craftsmanship and the use of non-traditional materials, or in the details that you may not even notice like how Lexus door close with the least amount of sound.
Lexus design division general manager Koichi Suga said, “We are passionate about design because we believe in its power.” It’s about uniqueness, seamless anticipation, and incisive simplicity.
We were privileged to have Lexus International Corporation president Yoshihiro Sawa sit down with us for a couple of minutes at the Design Dome. This writer asked him for the reason behind the Lexus Cultural Experience. “As you may know, we’re trying to be a luxury lifestyle brand,” he began. “Luxury consumers really appreciate the special experience, the special moment rather than just luxury products (themselves). (For Lexus), to provide an unforgettable moment together with the product will be very important from now on.”
He continued: “That’s the reason why we provided lots of activities… driving experience, food and wine experience, design experience. That kind of connection, based on the Japanese sense of beauty is what makes our brand unique compared to other established brands.”
Sawa conceded that Lexus is a young marque compared to its segment competitors, so the mantra is about being different. Lexus is now publicly embracing what is probably its greatest unique value proposition – that it is unapologetically Japanese – to present its portfolio of vehicles. “Japanese culture based on our concept is very important,” Sawa maintained. “Japanese food, animation, and art is very accepted around the world, and our brand is really based on our cultural expression.”
We go back to what Sawa explained in the booklet: “We at Lexus believe in the value of the experience and in crafting unforgettable moments, through our vehicles, our guest expriences, and our brand pursuits, and our Japanese cultural roots have instilled in us the same innate passion for meticulous attention to detail and anticipatory hospitality. This is why we can say: Nothing is crafted like a Lexus.”