2012 Lexus LFA: A Lost Decade, A Sales Dud? Page 3

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A decade of development
To measure that, we have to look at what Lexus put into the LFA. Development began in early 2000, with three years of research and testing before the first prototype was built in mid-2003. Another two years of study elapsed before the first concept car appeared in January 2005, at the Detroit Auto Show. Even then, it was clearly a concept; side-mirrors were replaced by cameras, a heavy and impractical (in super/sports car terms) glass roof was fitted.

Despite rumors of its production-intent status, the car stagnated. Over the next two years, it underwent a radical redesign, switching from a more conventional aluminum frame to a carbon fiber basis due to growing weight concerns. The first of the redesigned LFA concept cars showed in January 2007, again in Detroit. At the same show, the Lexus IS-F debuted, the first--and thus far, only--example of Lexus' long-rumored F Performance line. If the goal were simply to bathe the IS-F in the light of the LFA's technical excellence, the job could have been considered complete at that point--the proof of concept showed Lexus had the technical and design capability.

But it wasn't to end there: over the course of 2007, the powertrain became the subject of vacillation and change. The 2005 concept was touted as generating "more than 500 horsepower" from an engine displacing "less than five liters," though exactly what form that engine would take--V-8, V-10, something else--was not revealed. The 2007 concept brought with it the promise of a V-10 layout. But between the 2007 concept and the 2008 Roadster concept, there were indications that Lexus was considering a possible V-8 engine paired with a hybrid drivetrain not unlike the LS600h L's. Yet another sinkhole for R&D dollars, and one that ultimately bore no fruit.

Returning again to Detroit, in 2008, the LF-A Roadster concept was unveiled, cementing the role of the V-10 engine, but this time showing it without the top. Lexus intended it, along with the dramatically restyled exterior details, to demonstrate the realm of possibilities enabled by the LFA's new-found carbon fiber construction. Though it isn't clear that the Roadster was ever intended for series production, it was this model that debuted many of the production-oriented design features of the car. One has to wonder how much time and effort was sunk into making it a suitable stiff, competent supercar in drop-top form.

Move forward another year to 2009 and the industry, fully in the midst of freefall, and still Lexus marched forward at its achingly slow pace with the LFA. In October, the production model was finally revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show. The order books opened two days after its debut, but even then, it would be another 14 months before the LFA finally entered production.

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