First production 2012 Lexus LFA rolls off the line
The LFA has been in production since last December. At the current rate, it will take another 27-28 months for the remaining 410 cars to be built. That will extend its run into the end of 2013--not at all unheard of for any car, especially a hyper-limited run of very expensive cars. The nearly $2 million Bugatti Veyron, for example, has been in production since 2003 for a run of just 300 cars, including the many special editions. Even so, the rate of LFA production now sits at about 15 cars per month, short of Lexus' stated production goal of 20 per month. With each car intended to be built to order, to the customer's precise specifications, operating below theoretical capacity indicates a shortfall in demand. [Update: Lexus wrote us to point out that LFA production, like most other industries in Japan, was disrupted for some time due to the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the country. It's a fair point and does explain some of the shortfall in output and sales, though perhaps not all. Time will tell about the remainder.]
There were reports last year--quickly reversed by Lexus--that the LFA had sold out, despite its hefty $375,000 price tag and, in the U.S., restrictive leasing conditions. Even though Lexus corrected the erroneous sold-out status, it indicated, vaguely, that only a few slots were remaining. So how, then, could we formulate our question in such cold terms?
It's simple, really: compared to other cars of its performance caliber and status, the LFA is barely selling at all. Lamborghini's recently-released Aventador, for instance, has already sold the entirety of its first-year allotment of cars through pre-order--before it was even available for testing. Likewise, the Ferrari FF's full year's run of 800 cars sold out in pre-order as well. The Aventador sells for about $370,000, while the FF sells in the neighborhood of $360,000, putting both on equal footing with the LFA in price.
Image is everything
Does it come down to the much-discussed brand cachet issue? Everyone knows the status and impact the Ferrari and Lamborghini marques carry, thanks in part to their perennial stratospheric market positions. Lexus, on the other hand, was introduced in America--a decidedly gauche nation, to many outside eyes--as an affordable luxury brand that nonetheless delivered the amenities of the good life. Can that same brand pull off a halo supercar so far removed from its brethren? Though unsubstantiated by data, that is a popular sentiment among the media and supercar owners alike. Other explanations, such as relative performance (Ferrari and Lamborghini both make cars that will run with the LFA for about half the price) weigh in as well.
Whatever the cause, the slow sales prompt the question: was the LFA worth it to Lexus? Considering the massive investment of time and R&D budget in the project, plus the projected loss of money on every car sold, the failure of the car to resonate with its ostensible intended market may be the strongest indicator that it wasn't.
Lexus has delivered a handful of justifications for the LFA project over the years: it washes the lower-run Lexus performance cars in a sheen of the truly exotic; it serves as a proving ground for next-generation construction and technology; it raises the brand's perception as a whole among the upper echelon of the automotive elite. Well and good, assuming any of these prove true (and, as noted above, we have reason to believe they haven't so far). But how does the return compare to the investment?