From Origin to Eminence: A Lexus Retrospective

From Origin to Eminence: A Lexus Retrospective

When researchers for the Flagship One (F1) project fanned out to conduct market research in May 1985, launching a new luxury brand was not on the team’s radar.

The goal of F1 was simple, if not humble: Build the world’s greatest vehicle. Designers on the project huddled together on the U.S. West Coast, taking in the briny air of Laguna Beach, California, while observing the lavish lifestyle of the locals. At the same time, F1 engineers were conducting prototype testing across the globe. They were looking for the best in automotive excellence — and how to do it better.

When the teams reconnected, they shared with each other what they had just experienced: luxury and peak performance. The teams concluded they would need a new brand, a new sales stream and a new identity for the luxury sedan.

Today, Lexus celebrates 10 million vehicles sold globally. And, it all started with a simple idea and a trip overseas.

Getting off the ground: 1985-1990

From the late ’80s into the ’90s, the world was experiencing a wave of interconnectivity, which had a massive boon on the U.S. automotive industry.

For the first time, cars were being made worldwide, and brands like Lexus were ready to connect with every market.

Getting off the ground: 1985-1990

With 60 designers, 1,400 engineers and 2,300 technicians, approximately 450 prototypes were built before the LS 400 was born. The launch edition sported a new 4.0-liter V8 gasoline engine and rear-wheel drive and shared no similarities with Toyota’s past vehicles.

The LS 400 premiered in January 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and went on sale in September. Only 121 dealers were allowed to sell the franchise during the first year. The brand’s opulent debut was backed by a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.

Meteoric Rise to Fame: 1990-2000

It was an instant hit. And as the company’s reputation flourished, so did the product line.

Two new vehicles, the ES 300 and SC 300, were added to the roster. By 1991, Lexus had already won in three out of five categories with JD Power, and outsold Mercedes-Benz and BMW, making it the best-selling luxury import brand in the country. Lexus moved quickly to address any safety concerns. After complaints of faulty wiring and an overheated brake light, the company immediately recalled 8,000 LS 400s. Within 20 days, technicians picked up, repaired and returned the cars free of charge, setting a new standard in personalized service.

The brand was also one of the first to debut a certified pre-owned program, improving the value of trade-in models.

Meteoric Rise to Fame: 1990-2000

By the turn of the century, Lexus was sitting on something of a mountain of milestones: Five more vehicles were added to the line-up, second and third generations of each model were dominating the market and one million vehicles were sold.

Building a Legacy of Luxury: 2000-2010

By 2001, Lexus had become a household name — a symbol of luxury and performance.

What’s more, Lexus adapted to every wave of automotive disruption. At a time when drivers were looking to escape high gas prices, the RX 300 employed the first Hybrid Synergy Drive system on a crossover. It combined gasoline and electronic motors, offering an alternative fuel component while also improving efficiency. But innovation never rests.

In 2002, the LF-S, the first Lexus Future concept vehicle, was unveiled in Tokyo. By the next year, the company announced that the best-selling luxury SUV, would become the first Lexus vehicle manufactured outside Japan, in North America.

Building a Legacy of Luxury: 2000-2010

Among the other milestones:

• Lexus offered the first luxury hybrid sport sedan, the GS 450h.
• The Pursuit of Potential philanthropic program was launched in 2007. This pledge to better children’s lives and pursue their dreams, was a partnership with dealers through community initiatives. Since launch, more than $7.65 million has been awarded to charities through matching grants.

Building a Legacy of Luxury: 2000-2010

Among the other milestones:

• The brand touted its 416-horsepower V8 engine in the Lexus IS F high-performance sedan.
• Lexus was named the No. 1 premium car manufacturer in the U.S. (which would stand for 10 years) and it celebrated its 20th anniversary.

A Decade to Remember: 2010 – Present

This past decade, Lexus has taken the luxury brand to new heights, and the company is using technology to innovate around driver safety. From pedestrian-detecting capabilities to lane departure alert to smartphone integration, the brand has embedded the latest technology across the entire driving experience.

In 2011, Lexus received the J.D. Power award in all five of its flagship automotive studies.

A Decade to Remember: 2010 – Present

Building off their new design philosophy, which embraces Japanese design identity, the fourth-generation GS 350 and GS 450h presented a whole new style of vehicle in 2012.

To solidify its heritage in the U.S., however, Lexus did what is arguably the most American thing to do: premiered their first Super Bowl commercial for Super Bowl XLVI.

A Decade to Remember: 2010 – Present

By 2013, the brand had launched the Lexus Design Award, an international design competition that targets the next generation of innovators around the world. They also premiered the performance coupe, the NX 200t, the NX 300h and the GS F, which dominated global headlines.

A Decade to Remember: 2010 – Present

In 2018, Lexus revealed plans to build the brand’s first luxury yacht, LY 650, and Intersect by Lexus opened its third global location, in New York City.

In the brand’s 30 years, Lexus has achieved more than a life of luxury with more to come in the next 30.

Originally published September 4, 2019

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