A short history of luxury: Lexus, or Toyota’s secret project

How was the Lexus brand born, the secret project of Toyota in the 80s? It was in 1989 that the project was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show.


In the early 1980s, Japanese carmakers were determined to conquer the world, and in particular the United States, then the world’s largest car market. In 1983, Eiji Toyoda, the president of Toyota, challenged his company to build “a car better than the best car in the world“. He was very ambitious and many in the automotive industry thought the idea was fantastic, because without experience in the international luxury car market, how could he hope to reach or even surpass the performance of the established leaders in the sector?


A secret project


But the idea remains and becomes concrete, in 1983, the brand launches the top secret project “F1” for Flagship number 1. For some years Toyota has been among the established brands for popular cars, but its ambition is quite different: the Japanese company wants to attack the flagship of the industry and compete with Mercedes-Benz and BMW.



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Une publication partagée par Lexus France (@lexusfrance)


In May 1985, Toyota’s marketing specialists went to the United States to conduct a major market study. The designers were also invited and rented houses in Laguna Beach for the whole summer, with the idea of getting as close as possible to the target clientele: wealthy Americans.


More than 4,000 people participated in the project. From the start, the objectives set for the first model of the brand, the LS, were out of the ordinary. Indeed, the maximum speed of the vehicle had to reach 250 km/h, for a consumption of 10,5 l/100km. Its aerodynamic lines had to ensure a drag coefficient of less than 0.29 and the noise level in the cabin had to be no more than 58 dB at a road speed of 100 km/h. Chief engineer Ichiro Suzuki was the driving force behind the development of the LS 400 and refused to compromise, pushing his teams to go the extra mile and beyond the limits.


The birth of Lexus


The Japanese company entrusts its usual advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, with the marketing of its new luxury brand. A team dedicated to the project is created, named “Team One”. The agency Lippincott & Margulies lists 219 names such as “Vectre”, “Chaparel”, “Verone” or “Alexis” which wins the votes.


Finally, the name will be changed to “Lexus“. One theory is that Lexus is an acronym for Luxury Exports to the US.


The Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro submitted the idea of the logo enclosed in an oval and the agency Molly Designs and Hunter Communications was entrusted with the creation of this logo, intended by the brand as a symbol of elegance and power.


Time for a revelation


In 1989, the F1 project was completed and the brand’s first car, the Lexus LS 400, was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show. After years of work involving some 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 220 workers, 450 prototypes, 60 designers and 24 development teams, the first Lexus model was born, having cost a billion dollars in development.


Lexus LS 400 © Michel Deslauriers


Nothing is left to chance and several million dollars are invested in television advertising. The quality of the manufacturing impresses customers and journalists. Quiet as no other car before, the LS 400 offers a totally ergonomic interior, with exemplary finishing, careful aerodynamics and low fuel consumption.


The American magazine Car and Driver emphasized the fact that the Lexus LS 400 was sold for $38,000 and was preferred to the Mercedes-Benz 420 SEL for $63,000. This is a great achievement for the team, which was counting on competition from the iconic German brands in the market.


After a few months on the market, the Lexus’ reliability record is impressive. The only downside? Two customers out of 16,000 complain about electronic defects. The brand has recalled 8,000 Lexus to repair them and return them to their owners. The operation was hailed by the press and by owners, showing the brand’s unfailing trust and devotion to its customers.





Featured photo: © Lexus

Passionnée par l’art et la mode, Hélène s’oriente vers une école de stylisme: l’Atelier Chardon-Savard. Elle complète ensuite sa formation par un MBA en Marketing à l’ISG. Elle a écrit pour le magazine Do it in Paris et se spécialise en rédaction d’articles concernant le luxe, l’art et la mode au sein de Luxus +.


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