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I didn't want Lexus GS, Toyota boss admits

No compromise: Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda (right) and Lexus group vice-president and general manager Mark Templin with the all-new Lexus GS350.

At first opposed to a new Lexus GS, Akio Toyoda becomes its most passionate champion

Lexus logo19 Aug 2011

By RON HAMMERTON in PEBBLE BEACH

TOYOTA Motor Corporation (TMC) president Akio Toyoda revealed today that he had been opposed to the development of the new fourth-generation Lexus GS sedan when it was first mooted, due to the lacklustre sales performance of the previous model.

But he said he was won over by the enthusiasm for the car from Lexus markets around the world and ended up overseeing the project and test driving the prototypes at Germany’s Nurburgring “many, many times”.

“Now, I have to be honest with you,” he said at the global launch of the new Lexus GS at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California. “Initially, I did not want to proceed with this project.

“But all the world markets were so passionate about it and told me, in a nice way, that I was crazy!“They felt strongly about this car and fought for it, and their enthusiasm for the GS really moved me. So I agreed, but on one condition: the car had to be improved much more.

“It needed to be designed, engineered, and manufactured without compromise. I told our engineers that we are not moving ahead unless we do it right from the start.

“And since the design of the GS was going to be seen on future Lexus vehicles, it had to be bolder, stronger, and more confident. For that, we looked to our supercar, the LFA, for inspiration on styling and performance cues.

“As a result, the GS will be the first car to wear the new face of Lexus.”

Mr Toyoda indicated the GS heralded an avalanche of new Lexus models.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “Next year, Lexus will launch nine new or updated vehicles. And we have many more in development.”

Mr Toyoda said he had become personally involved in the management of Lexus, as part of the new, refined management structure that was leading the way in the Toyota corporation.

“Simply put, we have internationalised Lexus,” he said. “We handpicked a team from all over the world to head up a new Global Lexus Division at TMC and have combined engineering, design and marketing all under one unit, separate from any other group.

“Working together with Lexus leaders from every major region across the globe, this group is responsible for key decisions on the business, marketing and future products, representing the voice of customers.

“And, since I am so passionate about the future of Lexus, I wanted to be personally involved.”

Mr Toyoda said the streamlined structure had fewer layers, with managers reporting directly to him.

“This allows the team to react quicker to customers’ needs and desires,” he said. “This internal process is unique from any other division at TMC and I am very pleased with this new direction.”

The grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda, Mr Toyoda is passionate about cars. At Pebble Beach this week, just over two years after taking the reins of the Japanese auto giant, he joked that he sometimes drove engineers crazy, “but it’s worth it”.

In his presentation, he showed a slide of himself in a race driving suit at the Nurburgring when he shared the driving of a Lexus LFA prototype in the Nurburgring 24-hour race in Germany two years ago (a month before becoming president and CEO), saying: “When I said personally involved, I meant it.”

Mr Toyoda said that throughout the development process of the new GS, he had personally checked on its progress “including driving it at Nurburgring many, many times because I wanted to be confident in its performance capabilities”.

“Even this morning, I drove here in the new GS from Silicon Valley, and let me tell you, this car is amazing to drive – I had a blast,” he said.

“I am very happy the global Lexus team fought me on this and that, together, we challenged the engineers to raise the bar.

“Every time I drive it, I am more confident in our next generation GS. It is a great achievement.”

The new GS sedan is set to arrive in Australia in the first half of 2012 in V6 GS350 and hybrid GS450h variants, both with optional F Sport packages.

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