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Lexus sheds the cardigan

Shake up: The car at the back is the prpduction IS sedan, while the LF-CC concept in the foreground previews a slinky coupe version yet to come.

New Lexus Australia boss says company’s focus is on sexing up its vehicle designs

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Lexus logo31 May 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

LEXUS Australia’s recently appointed chief executive, Sean Hanley, says the brand needs to shake up its conservative image with more evocative designs.

Mr Hanley said the key to stealing sales from luxury rivals was appealing to buyers who may be turned off by its safe but beige image.

He cited vehicles such as the LF-CC coupe concept and forthcoming new IS sedan were indicative of a shift within the brand, driven by global president Akio Toyoda.

One of Mr Toyoda’s initiatives to shake up the brand’s dowdy designs was to streamline the process that bore them. Lexus designs had previously needed approval from 200 executives, but now the team was much smaller, which the company says made for “quicker and purer” outcomes.

The challenge, said Mr Hanley, was addressing this “weakness” while retaining existing customers, historically drawn to the brand by its reliability, build quality and aftersales care.

“Customers who purchased our vehicles never regretted their decision,” he said.

“Today, however, customers are looking for more not just from the product they buy, but from the brand they are buying into ... For Lexus our weakness in that sense was design.

“After almost 25 years ... we have learned and firmly believe that form and function need to co-exist.

“We also understand that if we are to continue to grow as a brand, we need to speak to a broader global audience – particularly those who view Lexus as the reliable and safe choice, rather than an exciting one.

“Over the past 12 months we have begun tackling that challenge, launching vehicles that are more fun to drive, more innovative, and just as importantly, more emotive.

“For too long our vehicle designs failed to either excite or offend – our designs were safe.”

The drive to sex up its image is evident in the new IS, which – in the metal – takes notable styling cues from the slinky LF-CC, specifically in its outlandish grille, and also lifts the instrument cluster from the limited-run LFA supercar.

Pressed on whether the company would seek a halo car, or style leader, developed off the LF-CC or LF-LC coupe concepts, Mr Hanley gave no firm commitment, but said “it’s clear there’s a market for it”.

“LF-CC is more than a concept, it is a promise from Lexus to deliver an engaging and exciting two-door coupe – in fact, its impact is already evident in the forthcoming IS Line," he said.

“The beauty of LF-CC is more than skin deep, with its innovative petrol-electric drivetrain and on-board features, the LF-CC and in fact the LF-LC coupe concept are graphic demonstrations of what’s to come from Lexus."Lexus is putting its money where it mouth is with its design push, becoming vehicle sponsor of this year’s Australian International Design Awards in Sydney, and offering design scholarships to up-and-comers at its facilities in Japan.

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