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Lexus (Japanese:レクサス) is a brand name coined by Toyota Motor Corporation for its line of luxury vehicles. Toyota started this line of luxury vehicles in 1989 to compete with other luxury makes, including Honda's Acura division.
Lexus cars and SUVs are sold in North America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia and Oceania; in the United States, Lexus is the top selling brand of luxury cars. Until 2005, Lexus vehicles were sold under the Toyota marque in Japan until its introduction there that year. As of June of 2006, all but two of the 130+ Lexus dealerships in Japan were in the red.
In a country where Accords and Camrys are considered quite luxurious, and where its existing lineup already has 45% market share, Toyota has a long way to go to expand to the success of BMW and Mercedes Benz in the luxury market. Fortunately, the lowest cost and most efficient automaker in the world has the biggest war chest and can afford to pay its 1,000s of Lexus employees to wait around. In the U.S. the brand continually ranks at the top of owner satisfaction and reliability.
The Lexus Brand
The Lexus saga began with the flagship LS 400, known as the Toyota Celsior in the Japanese domestic market. the LS 400 had a unique design, sharing no major elements with previous Toyota vehicles, with a new 4.0 L V8 engine. It was widely praised for its silence, well-appointed interior, fine engine performance, outstanding build quality, and value. (In some markets, it was priced against mid-sized Mercedes-Benz and BMW models, while offering size, performance, and quality comparable to their full-size cars). It was generally regarded as a major shock to the European marques, but was criticized by automobile columnists for anonymous styling and a suspension regarded as too compromising of handling for ride comfort. Nonetheless, the LS 400 won several major motoring awards when released.
Lexus was inspired by 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 first Lexus-badged models, the V-8 powered LS 400 and the smaller, Toyota Camry-based ES 250, appeared in 1989.
The Lexus marque was launched in the United States in 1989, prompted by the successful launch of the Acura marque three years prior. Lexus launched later in Great Britain, Canada and Australia, in 1990.
An image consulting firm presented a list of 219 names, from which Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis were top candidates. While Alexis quickly became the front runner (possibly due to the association 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 Toyota, however, the name had no meaning and was just meant to be pleasing and easy to remember. Just prior to the release of the first vehicles, the 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.
Another theory has surfaced, claiming that the Lexus name was given to the project by Toyota in the mid-80s, as an acronym for Luxury EXport United States.
Hunter Communications, the agency who designed the "L" logo and also presented the name to Toyota management, says Lexus was born of the "LE" on the automaker's luxury edition vehicles, which created the acronym "Luxury Edition for the United States" or "LEUS" with the "x" from "luxury" added to form "LEXUS".
The marque was finally introduced to the Japanese market on July 26, 2005. The compact IS 250\IS 350, convertible SC 430, and midsize GS 350/GS 430 will all be available in Japan in the 2006 model year.
In some countries, like Malaysia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK, where there is a market in grey imports of Japanese cars, some equivalent Toyota models have been retro-fitted with Lexus badges, although they still differ slightly from officially imported Lexus models, especially in specification and equipment levels.
Lexus directly competes with such luxury brands as the Europe's Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volvo, the American Cadillac and Lincoln, and Japanese peers Acura, which launched three years before, and Infiniti which started later in the same year.
Lexus' new offerings, released between 2004 and 2007 all carry its new, distinctive design language - dubbed L-Finesse. Lexus is finally taking visuals and aesthetics seriously, after years of being dismissed as being a producer of bland and lack lustre designs. Following in the footsteps of BMW's Bangle inspired design, The L-Finesse design language is the product of an increasingly competetive auto market, where only the most outstanding and flambouyant vehicles attract consumer attention. Lexus' new crop of concept vehicles, which include the LF-X, LF-S, LF-C, LF-A and LF-Sh can all be viewed at Lexus' official concept website, [Lexus Concept Vehicles].
Over the years, Lexus has developed a strong and complete portfolio of vehicles that covers a significant spread of the 'luxury' market. Today, its lineup comprises four sedans - IS (an entry level sports compact), the ES (an midsize luxury sedan), the GS (a sports-luxury sedan) and the LS (flagship luxury sedan) and one roadster (the SC430). In addition, the portfolio sports three SUVs - the RX (a crossover compact), the GX (a midsize luxury) and the LX (full size flagship).
Known until recently as the Toyota Altezza in Japan, the Lexus IS was introduced in 1998 as Lexus' answer to the BMW 3-series. Although a serious automobile, experts never considered it to be a true threat to the BMW's superior benchmark. That all changed with the introduction of the second-gen, 2006 model year IS - a vehicle considered to be on par with the BMW's standings. Now offered with a choice of 2.5 or 3.5 liter mills, the IS delivers serious grunt with the refinement and precision matched only by Lexus.
Lexus' entry level luxury sedan, the ES, is vaguely based on Toyota's bread-and-butter Camry sedan. Instead of the Camry's four and six banger engines, however, comes the stately 3.5 liter. This V6 hustles the saloon with speed - although the ES is marketed more as an elegant, luxury sedan than a sports tourer. The Lexus ES 350 is a direct counterpart of the Toyota Windom, which is sold in Japan. While most of Lexus' offerings are aimed squarely at the German car buyer, the ES does not have a German car counterpart, and is instead sold as a luxury sedan for those wishing to upgrade from Camrys.
The Toyota Aristo based GS sports sedan has its sights aimed squarely at Germany's midsize sports sedan offerings. Armed with a choice of three engines - the base 3.5, a potent 4.6 and an incredible 4.5 Hybrid - the 2007 Lexus GS enters battle armed every bit like the German sedans it tries to embody. Unlike the Toyota Hybrid variants, which improve fuel mileage at the cost performance, the Lexus hybrids are aimed at further boosting performance, without loosing fuel economy.
Lexus' spanking new flagship LS luxury cruiser will be available by the 2007 model year. This vehicle will offer a 4.6 liter powerplant, bringing a whopping 380 HP and 370 pound-feet of torque to the table. Power will be transferred to the wheels through a groundbreaking 8 speed gearbox - a first of its kind. An extra few grand buys you the 'L' badge - Lexus' crack at the extended wheelbase sedans of Germany. And if even that is not enough, buyers have the choice to opt for the LS600hL, the first hybrid V8 ever. Lexus claims that its flagship Hybrid will have the performance and luxury to compete with Germany's V12 sedans, while offering the relative frugality of a V8.
Lexus' only sports tourer, the SC430, is a convertible hardtop. While not much of a sports vehicle, the SC, known as the Toyota Soarer in Japan, is certainly an elegant convertible cruiser. While the Soarer is offered with the twin-turbo in its home nation, only the standard induction 4.3 makes its way into the SC430.
So you want to enjoy the comfort and space afforded by an SUV but don't want to empty your wallet with $3/gallon fillups? Enter the crossover-ute. Lexus ups the ante in the soft roader class by introducing the new and improved RX. Based on the Camry platform, the RX can be had with a 3.5 liter internal combustion engine, or a hybrid - dubbed the RX400h.
Customers shopping for a standard, body-on-frame SUV can also stop by to check out the new GX 470, known elsewhere as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. Available as a five or seven seater, this midsize SUV is Lexus' answer to America's burgoening SUV market. Notable for its extensive 4x4 capabilities, the Prado is operated and raced by Toyota and other 4x4 teams the world over.
Lexus' final entree in its portfolio is the LX 470. Based closely on Toyota's Land Cruiser, the LX comes to the Lexus dealership donning a new badge, reworked interiors and a greater level of sophistication. Sad to say, the LX 470 will be axed in the 2008 model year to make way for Lexus' upcoming SUV - the JX. Dispair not, however, as the Toyota Land Cruiser will continue to be offered, for nearly 10 grand less.
In the Pipeline
The 2007 model year marks the finish of Lexus' current batch of lauches, with the arrival of the highly anticipated LS. However, atleast two more vehicles loom in the horizon.
First is the Lexus JX, Lexus' foray into the full size SUV market. Based on the upcoming Toyota Sequoia/Tundra platform, the JX will go head to head with similar offerings from Lincoln and Cadillac. Unconfirmed rumors have it that the JX will come to the US not with the standard 4.7 liter mill, but with a more potent 5.4 liter mill.
Finally, Lexus' display of its LF-A concept at the Detroit Auto Show hints at a production version of its sports coupe. Lexus' bias towards fuel economy, soft suspension settings and silent engines had meant that experts rarely took Lexus' attempts at sportiness seriously. The LF-A is all about changing those perceptions. Lexus has recently announced that the LF-A will walk into dealerships wearing a V-10 rated at over 500 bhp in a sub-5 liter engine. A vehicle that reportedly will push the 200 mph barrier clearly shows that Lexus is taking 'sport' seriously.
Many Lexus vehicles are manufactured in the Tahara, Japan plant, a highly sophisticated, computerized manufacturing plant. 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.
Lexus has become known for efforts to project a luxury image even with service provided after the sale. The waiting areas in the service departments are complete with such amenities as a refreshment bar, business center that is soundproofed and stocked with computers and a fax machine, and the service bay is lined with large picture windows to allow the customers to watch the repairs.
In 2005, Lexus came first in the Top Gear Survey, "the UK's biggest independent car satisfaction survey" with over 76,000 respondants.
Lexus has been participating in endurance racing, in particular the 24 Hours of Daytona. 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. Lexus is also going to participate in 12 Hours of Sebring which now form a part of American Le Mans. There has been speculation of a Lexus F1 operation in the near future, in line with its expansion into the luxury car markets, and increasing competition with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Lexus may enter for the 2007 Formula 1 season as an engine supplier to the WilliamsF1 team, using Toyota engines rebadged as Lexus, but these rumors are purely speculative.
After the release of the Lexus brand on the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) in 2005, four SC 430 coupes were entered in the SuperGT series in the GT500 class. In the first race of the 2006 series, an SC 430 took the chequered flag.
- In the United States, Lexus Financial Savings Bank, in conjunction with US Bank, has launched a Lexus Pursuits Visa Card.
- Lexus was requested by Steven Spielberg, an ardent fan of Lexus and himself an owner of LX 470, to design a vehicle which would fit the requirements of year 2054 for his movie Minority Report. Lexus came up with an advanced vehicle which would run on fuel cells and have many advanced safety features including a crash-proof structure. (Lexus' cinematic concept car also appears in The Island, though it's colored blue, not red).
- The ES series is roughly based on the US Toyota Camry.
- The IS (Toyota Altezza in Japan) series is roughly based on the Toyota Cressida luxury sedan, which was discontinued in 1992 in the US partially because of dropping sales due to the launch and success of the Lexus brand.
- After being discontinued in 1992, the X chassis code for Cressidas was still in use in Japan under the Mark II, Chaser, and Cresta names until the early 2000s.
- After falling on hard times, fictional television/radio personality Alan Partridge drove a Lexus, believing it to be a luxury car.
Future of Lexus
Although Lexus has had phenomenal success in the US since 1991-1992 — within 3 years of its introduction in 1989 — it has been struggling outside North America, including its home country, Japan, where the Lexus brand started marketing in 2005 and is still waiting for the arrival of the LS series due later this year, and in particular Europe. Automotive analysts have pointed out that Lexus has been so successful in North America because the wide consumer base of Toyota and in particular the baby boomers wanted something more luxurious as they were becoming older and their surplus incomes were allowing them to migrate to brands such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The huge success of Lexus was in part due to the fact that its higher levels of quality and cut-rate prices enabled it to retain those migrating customers and keep them "in the family."
However, this also had negative repurcussions as Lexus gradually cemented an image of cut-rate brand, which would offer similarly equipped cars at tens of thousands of dollars less than its primary competitors, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The former chief of BMW, Eberhard von Kuenhiem predicted that this strategy would work to some extent in US, but not in Europe, where the words premium and luxury do not go well with cut-rate pricing. Some automotive experts believe that Lexus' failure to woo European customers and its very slow incremental increase in European arena is because of the serious damage Lexus has done to its brand image. This has led some automotive thinkers to believe that unless Lexus prices its products head-to-head with the European premium brands and emphasizes its superior quality, reliability and engineering, it will not be able to succeed globally.
- IS - compact RWD/AWD
- (1998-2005) IS 200/IS 300
- (2006-) IS 250/IS 250 AWD/IS 350/IS 220d
- ES - midsize FWD
- (1989-1991) ES 250
- (1992-2001) ES 300
- (2002-2006) ES 300/ES 330
- (2007-) ES 350
- GS - midsize RWD/AWD
- LS - full-size RWD
- (1989-1994) LS 400 (UF10 I)
- (1995-2000) LS 400 (UF20 III)
- (2001-2006) LS 430
- (2007-) LS 460/LS 460L/LS 600hL (Hybrid)
- SC - coupe/coupe convertible RWD
- (1991-2001) SC 300/SC 400
- (2002-) SC 430
- RX - crossover SUV
- GX - midsize SUV
- (2002-) GX 470
- LX - large SUV
- (1996-2007) LX 450/LX 470
- JX - large SUV
- (2007-) JX 470
- LF-C - concept car
- LF-A - concept car
- Official Lexus Website
- Lexus Europe
- Team Lexus webpage Official webpage of Team Lexus, a factory-backed team competing in the Grand American Cup road racing series.
- Planet Lexus - Pictures and information regarding every Lexus model ever made
- Car Guys on plural of Lexus
- ClubLexus - Lexus Enthusiast Website
- Lexus Magazine Website
- Lexus UK Website
- General Info
- Lexus SC430 Pebble Beach Edition 2006