Lexus, despite its durable quality and customer service achievements, has never quite captured the cachet its German rivals have held for so long. However, that may soon change as the Toyota luxury brand is working tirelessly to create “Lexus envy.”
Automotive News (subscription required) spoke with outgoing Lexus International President Tokuo Fukuichi, who declared Lexus hasn’t exactly reached its aspirational potential compared to the Germans.
"When you're stuck in traffic, people look at the driver in the Mercedes as a person who has made it in society, and they will envy you," Fukuichi told Automotive News. "We haven't fully achieved that compared with the German three."
Fukuichi has taken a new position inside Lexus as the luxury brand’s chief branding officer. He will be responsible for crafting the aura needed to prop Lexus to new heights.
And his impact can already be seen. The Lexus LC will sit as the brand’s halo vehicle, with sharp, distinctive styling that certainly won’t be confused for a mass-market Toyota. During the media launch of the LC, Lexus also brought its Sport Yacht concept, a carbon-fiber vessel with power coming from two 5.0-liter V-8s. It even showcased a mock-up of the Skyjet that will be featured as the spaceship in the upcoming film "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets."
Fukuichi seems more confident than ever he’ll be able to achieve the success he envisions, since Toyota President Akio Toyoda has given him the power to advise product planning, technology, marketing, and more in his new role.
2018 Lexus LS 500h
On the product planning side, the newly minted branding officer will be more conscious than ever to separate Lexus from Toyota. Careful platform consideration will be key.
"Let's clearly define Lexus and wait and decide that some things can only be Lexus and not applied to Toyota," Fukuichi said. "I would like to clarify that sort of distinction."
Lexus has long held a large portion of the U.S. luxury vehicle market, but more recently, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have surged toward the top; Lexus volume dropped 23 percent through February despite the market growing. The story doesn’t improve on a global scale, either.
But, if there’s one person who seems suited to inject light into Lexus, it’s Fukuichi.
"Lexus' strengths such as quality and service can't be fully appreciated unless you're in the car driving," Fukuichi said. "Better quality isn't that necessary. Better brand power is."