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Bolder Lexus design reflects confident customer choices

Spindle sculpture: Calty senior creative designer Edward Lee with the Lexus LF-LC Blue concept that wowed crowds at the Sydney motor show last month.

Lexus ‘not striving to please everyone’ with edgier new styling direction


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5 Nov 2012

LEXUS is embracing its lack of heritage compared with the big three German luxury brands as a strength, while forging a bolder design strategy aimed at capitalising on the increased confidence of consumers to express their tastes.

This direction is epitomised by the striking – and well-received – LF-LC concept that debuted at Detroit early this year and was followed up at last month’s Sydney motor show with the LF-LC Blue.

Speaking with Australian media in Melbourne last week, the designer responsible for the LF-LC’s sleek exterior, Edward Lee, said Lexus is shedding its conservative image to become a brand “that is not striving to please everyone”.

Mr Lee is senior creative designer at Toyota’s Calty design studio in California, which he joined in 2007 after a stint with Audi.

“Right now Lexus is entering the era of taking (a) movement towards more definite design tastes we are hungry for innovation and we are hungry for making a statement of passionate design,” he said.

Mr Lee observed that in recent years customers have changed from “desiring what their neighbours buy” to “becoming more confident about the choices they are making and the taste they have”.

“They really look out for products that cater to their taste – that's the same direction that Lexus is moving.”

Having previously worked for a heritage-rich German brand, Mr Lee said he initially “wished there was some structure” to work with at Lexus but soon came to appreciate the advantage of flexibility afforded by the Japanese brand’s short 23-year history.

“As we started to develop Lexus design (and) started to move toward this more emotional expressiveness I realised this is a true advantage because we are allowed to move this in different directions.

“We can be more explorative, be more daring and really find the right answers that define our history, we can be more flexible I think flexibility is one huge advantage that we have.”

Mr Lee did not think Lexus will eventually end up with designs that reference the past as with BMW and Mercedes-Benz in years to come, dismissing the idea as “not Lexus”.

A possible production version of the LF-LC notwithstanding, Mr Lee pointed to the more “sculpturally integrated” spindle grille and taut surfacing as design features most likely to make their way onto future Lexus vehicles – and both feature on the LF-CC coupe concept revealed at the Paris show in September as a preview of a future production Audi A5 competitor.

He described the spindle grille of the LF-Gh concept that previewed the current GS luxury sedan as an “applied element”, whereas the LF-LC and LF-CC concepts have the opening seemingly embedded into the bodywork.

“It is simplifying the opening for the radiator but at the same time defining our brand identity ... we are striving to make it more beautiful and more integrated with the car architecture.

“Surface wise, Lexus is hungry for more innovative design solutions and I would say this type of new surfacing Lexus is exploring to apply on models in future.”

Expect more spectacular lighting on future Lexus products, following the integration of L-shaped LED daytime running lights as debuted on the CT200h compact hybrid hatchback last year and adopted across the IS and GS sedans, the RX SUV and upcoming new LS limousine.

The LF-LC has perforated metal panels through which light can penetrate sweeping below its headlights, which themselves are made up of three individual beam units arranged in a triangle formation as reference to the LFA hypercar’s exhausts.

At the back are hall-of-mirror effect tail-lights that use mirrors to create an endless loop effect and sense of infinite depth that Mr Lee described as like rocket boosters or afterburner.

“What we try is to combine technology with artistry,” he said.

“For example you have the daytime running lights, the main headlights, side indicators and the fog lights, it is a lot of function to package in that one area so what we try to do is integrate all those elements and make it as efficient as possible but express it in an artistic way.”

Mr Lee said the brief for the LF-LC project was to create a Lexus sportscar concept that if produced, would be more attainable than the $700,000 LFA but positioned higher than the SC coupe-convertible sold in Australia between 2001 and 2010 for around $170,000.

A succession of Lexus concepts have closely previewed production cars that came soon after, starting with the LF-Ch that became the CT200h, the LF-Gh that debuted the spindle grille and morphed into the GS and most recently the aforementioned LF-CC that is confirmed to foreshadow a production car.

Asked why concept cars are often so close to reality these days, Mr Lee said show cars the public can relate to tend to have more impact.

“As a designer you always have to ask yourself, is this something I would buy?“At the end of the day we can design something very creative and cutting-edge but there is no connection (with the public).”

The response to the LF-LC concept at Detroit quickly moved it from a design study to a 50/50 possibility for production, and the Blue iteration that stole the Sydney show is likely to have pushed the 2+2 even closer toward a showroom trajectory.

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