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Paris show: Top Lexus boss defends latest styling

G-whizz: The fourth-gen Lexus GS sedan was the first production model to debut the bold L-finesse design language.

Bold Lexus styling is winning customers, according to former head of design

Lexus logo6 Oct 2014

By TIM NICHOLSON in PARIS

THE bold new design direction taken by luxury brand Lexus is not alienating its core customer base, according to the Japanese company’s head of international operations and its former global chief designer.

Toyota’s premium brand has adopted a more aggressive design language that was previewed via a series of concepts in the mid-2000s and has since graced each new model since the debut of the fourth-generation GS sedan in 2011.

Since then the ‘L-finesse’ styling has developed further, culminating in the brand’s current line-up which includes the new NX SUV as well as the IS sedan that feature a front end dominated by the so-called ‘spindle grille’.

Speaking with Australian reporters at the Paris motor show, Lexus International president Tokuo Fukuichi – who, up until recently, was responsible for the design of the brand’s new-generation vehicles – denied that the edgy styling aimed at attracting a more youthful buyer were alienating Lexus’ more traditional (read: older) customer base.

He added that the Lexus design philosophy was about exceeding customers’ expectations and that the NX in particular would appeal to buyers in urban areas.

“So far we don’t have a negative pressure from existing customers,” he said.

Fukuichi-san said that the current design is actually attracting buyers and added that Lexus needs to differentiate itself if it is to compete against its established European rivals.

“Also this is a premium brand,” he said. “Lexus must have originality. That’s why people want to buy. If you buy something like an SUV or sedan, (with) many premium brands in Europe, people don’t need a reason to think about buying a Lexus.

“Why you buy the Lexus? This is original, it has originality, which you cannot buy with other brands.

“If you like this design, you can buy. You don’t have to explain to your friend that this is an original design.”

Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley told GoAuto earlier this year that the L-finesse styling, including the bold spindle grille, had been great for brand recognition Down Under.

“When people see a Lexus behind them now they are going to say, ‘Oh that is a Lexus’. That spindle grille, when we first brought that out people were a bit apprehensive.

“Here it is a couple of years later and now people are loving that big Lexus face. And we have never had that sort of distinction before in the market and that’s what we have got to focus on doing.”

Fukuichi-san also touched on Lexus’ alternative fuel powertrain strategy that is, naturally, tied in with parent company Toyota, adding that hydrogen fuel-cell, plug-in hybrid and mild hybrid powertrains all had a place, but it would ultimately depend on buyer demand.

“Actually the Lexus customer wants to drive faster than the Toyota brand (customer). Their expectation is driving pleasure, more than the Toyota brand.

“Are fuel concepts very important or is driving pleasure very important, we have to think about.”

While Lexus currently only offers mild petrol-electric hybrid technology as an alternative powertrain, Toyota will soon launch a mass-production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the form of the FCV.

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