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LEXUS STORY: How the Lexus Became No.1

Updated on August 13, 2014
The Lexus RX series
The Lexus RX series | Source

Toyota Lexus RX 350

The Toyota Lexus RX 350 is a high performing brand from the Toyota Motor Corporation that was developed in 1989 to compete with the high end brands at the time. It has outperformed these brands not only in sales, but also in performance and durability.

For many years Toyota was associated with the bland car models that were popular with many people due to their reliability and affordability. The high end vehicle models were the preserve of the European car makers such as Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Jaguar. This changed when a visionary Toyota executive took the highly controversial and risky decision to venture into the high end vehicle market segment.

This hub looks at the process that delivered the Toyota Lexus RX 350 and made it the powerful brand it is today.

History of Lexus RX at a glance

1983- Toyota chairman Eiji Toyoda challenges his team to come up with concepts for the "World's Best Car''. This challenge is taken head-on by the best automotive engineers of the time Shoji Jimbo.

The Toyota Lexus Challenge

In 1983, the chairman of Toyota Eiji Toyoda put out a challenge to his colleagues to build the best car in the world. This was as a consequence of the feeling of inertia that had set in and was attributed to complacence of been number one in quality and market perception.The chairman was afraid that Toyota was resting on its laurels and may be left behind by other players in the market.

Qualities of the Dream Toyota

The challenge put out by the chairman meant that Toyota had to beat the front runners in all the qualities that customers wanted from the perfect car. Not that Toyota was not building good quality cars- the quality of Toyota cars was above the industry average and rising. This challenge was meant to put the car at a level that had not been reached before and would be very hard to match in the future. The quality brief for the perfect car read as follows:

  • Produce a car that had a high speed coupled with great handling and stability, yet be pleasant to drive
  • The car should have a fast, smooth ride with low fuel consumption
  • Quiet engine which should be light weight
  • Great aerodynamics yet have an elegant exterior design
  • Warm yet functional interior design

1988 -The Lexus is unveiled at the 1988 Los Angeles Motor Show
1989 -The Lexus LS400 is launched into the market after years of research and testing
1992 -Improved version of the LS400 for 1993 is launched
1993 -The GS300 is launched with a new industry level dashboard

These qualities seemed impossible at the time because to get one you had to sacrifice the other and both could not be easily combined. For example, to have great aerodynamics without sacrificing exterior design seemed like an impossible feat to accomplish.

The team that was tasked with these goals had to use their creativity so as to come up with the best car ever. This was not going to be an easy task as it had never happened before in Toyota and the resistance they were going to face was very strong.

1994- Second generation LS400 with 90% new features that European auto-makers scramble to beat
1996- The first of the LX off-road series is launched with the LX450 debut
1998- The first of the RX 4X4 series is launched with the RX300 featuring a V6 3.0ltr VVT-I engine.This model used early concept drawings of the Toyota Harrier.

The Toyota Lexus RX 350 (GGL15R)
The Toyota Lexus RX 350 (GGL15R) | Source

Benchmarking the best

To design the best car in the world, Toyota engineers had to take the best car of the time and better it. Few other cars exemplified top performance and quality than the BMW 735i. It had a top speed of 138mph, gave 19 miles per gallon, aerodynamic drag of .32, 61db of sound at 60 mph and weighed 1.9 tons.

When told by Engineer Suzuki to surpass these qualities,Toyota engineers remarked that it was impossible. How were they going to achieve the following specifications?

  • High speed of 155 mph
  • Fuel efficiency of under 22.5 mpg
  • An aerodynamic drag of 2.9
  • Noise level of 58db at 60 mph

When looked at individually, these goals looked achievable. However, when the Toyota engineers tried to combine them into a complete vehicle, it seemed like an impossible task. This initial difficulty in getting consensus between different functions within Toyota almost stalled the whole project. For a few months the project did not move until Chief Engineer Suzuki put together a multi-functional team who were able to start working together.

1999- The IS200 series of compact luxury sedans debuts in Europe
2000- LS series becomes the first automobile model to be fitted with Mark Levinson Automotive Surround System
2002- The LF-S series becomes the first Lexus to be fitted with a hybrid powertrain
2002- Lexus 2054 concept car powered by fuel cells and a myriad of safety features is show cased in Steven Spielbergs's futuristic thriller "Minority Report" featuring Tom Cruise
2003- Lexus engineers develop the world's first circular carbon fibre braider used to make light and strong body fibre.

2005- Hybrid luxury model RX400h with an efficient V8 engine is released to the market.
2006- Another high performing hybrid, the GS450h luxury sports sedan is unveiled, a first at the time.
2007- The LS600h hybrid luxury sedan with a V8 engine and high performance is launched
2007- The F performance line, for testing of sports models is commissioned

2008- Lexus develops the most advanced simulator with real-life testing abilities
2009- The LFA sports range with Formula One capabilities is displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show with a limited production of only 500 cars
2011- CT200h model is launched with hybrid features and highest mileage in its class
2012- LF-LC concept car with a futuristic design marks a new direction in the Lexus design paradigm

Which model of the Toyota Lexus do you like best?

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Putting the Toyota Lexus together

After the initial hurdles had been resolved, the team moved together with speed and produced innovative solutions to problems that they encountered along the way. The various challenges in the design phase called for out of the box solutions which the team explored and finally implemented:

  • Complementing the aesthetics and aerodynamics - the glass and door handles were fitted into the metal, thereby yielding a cleaner look and enhancing the airflow. The rear window was sloped slightly to push air off the trunk, while the spoiler was built into the trunk lid to give the car stability resulting in a better looking profile.
  • Lighter engine with higher fuel efficiency - The solution to the weight and fuel efficiency problem was solved by using an engine cast almost entirely from aluminium. Everything from the blocks, valve filters, pistons to cum covers were cast from aluminium. The car that resulted was 120 pounds lighter than the BMW 735i and gave a far better mileage (refer to table)
  • Lower engine noise - A powerful engine such as the one that was envisioned had to be very noisy and the Toyota engineers needed to find a solution to this. They examined all the moving parts of the engine to find the source of noise and found that it originated in the propeller shaft. The traditional design of shafts in most rear-wheel drive cars had two parts connected by an angle knuckle. Toyota's solution to the propeller shaft noise was to build a perfectly straight one- the noise was dramatically reduced by doing this.

Toyota's dream car was now a reality and the original targets had been achieved and surpassed. What remained now was for a name for the new car. Since this was an entirely new model, Toyota decided to name it the "Lexus" as a departure from its normal range of vehicle. When the Lexus LS400s was finally unveiled to the public on September 1, 1989 it was well received by the market.

The engineering feat accomplished by the Toyota team was of a level that had never been seen before. So high was the quality that when General Motors engineers tore a sample apart in order to understand it, they concluded that it was not possible to replicate the Lexus.

Lexus Target Compared to other Top Models

 
LS400
Mercedes S60E
BMW 735i
Top Speed
250 km/h
222 km/h
220 km/h
Fuel Consumption
23.5 mpg
19 mpg
18.8 mpg
Noise
58db @ 100 km/h
61db @ 100 km/h
63db @ 100 km/h
Aerodynamics
.28 to .29
.32
.37
Weight
1,710 kg
1,760 kg
1,760 kg

Moral of the Story

The story of the Toyota Lexus was as much a story about the development of a perfect brand as it was a story of Toyota's legendary manufacturing and operational systems thinking. The way Toyota approaches its programs with vision, creativity and innovation is what makes it the number one manufacturing organization in the world.

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      David Gitachu 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Thanks for your comment.

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      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Very interesting article. I learned something today. Thanks. Voted up.

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