“Are we capable of designing luxury cars that are capable of doing just as well and better than premium manufacturers?” It is with this question that Eiji Toyoda, leader of the Toyota Group, begins her meeting, surrounded by the company’s top executives. On this day in 1983, the Japanese launched the top-secret “F1” project for flagship number 1. For several years, Toyota had effectively competed with American manufacturers for popular cars. Now his ambition is a whole different one. They attack Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
A very original market research
In May 1985, Toyota marketers traveled to the United States to conduct extensive market research. Designers are also invited and rent houses in Laguna Beach for an entire summer. The idea is simple, to get as close as possible to the intended goal, the affluent Americans.
By living like them, in the midst of their neighborhood, they will be able to observe them, dissect their way of life, and better understand them. At the end of this summer, the first concrete decisions will be made. For example, the Japanese realize that the American premium customer does not want to buy a first-class vehicle in a vulgar Toyota garage. It will be necessary to provide a separate network with a personal welcome. But the road is still long.
What name for Toyota’s luxury brand?
The Japanese company leaves its usual advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, with the marketing of its new luxury brand. A team dedicated to the project is created, “Team One”. The Lippincott & Margulies agency lists a list of 219 names such as “Vectre”, “Chaparel”, “Verone” or “Alexis”, which will be the favorite name.
Eventually, the name will be changed to “Lexus”. One theory is that Lexus is an acronym for luxury exports to the United States without this being approved by the brand.
A mathematical formula as a logo
It is the Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro who will submit the idea of the logo enclosed in an oval. The agency Molly Designs and Hunter Communications were entrusted with the creation of this logo, thought of by the brand as a symbol of elegance and power.
Since its launch, Lexus has argued that the shape of the oval responds to a precise mathematical formula and does not owe it to chance. In 1988, the brand was presented and toured in salons in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. But which car does she want to sell?
Lexus LS 400, the masterpiece
In 1989, the F1 project was completed and materialized with the presentation of the brand’s first car, the Lexus LS 400. After years of work with 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 220 workers, 450 prototypes, 60 designers and 24 development teams, the first Lexus was born. Its development cost a billion dollars.
Lexus has no room for error, and nothing has been left to chance, from the first bolt to the network of 81 dealers across the United States. Several millions of dollars are invested in television commercials.
Better than a Mercedes
The build quality impresses customers and journalists. The LS 400 is as quiet as any other car before, its interior is totally ergonomic and we pay tribute to its exemplary finish, its neat aerodynamics and its low fuel consumption.
The American magazine Car and Driver drives the point home by preferring the Lexus LS 400, which sells for $ 38,000, over the Mercedes-Benz 420 SEL, which is offered for $ 63,000. In the following months, the BMW and Mercedes-Benz brands saw their sales fall by 29% and 19% respectively. But a small grain of sand will disturb the Japanese.
A sign of trust
After a few months of marketing, the reliability record is impressive. No breakdown to lament for the vast majority of owners. The only downside is that two US Lexus drivers are complaining about electronic errors. Two dissatisfied customers out of 16,000 is not much. But enough to upset the brand’s bosses who are organizing the recall of the 8000 Lexus.
The manufacturer sends technicians to the owners’ homes to pick up the cars before repairing them and bringing them back. In just under twenty days, all Lexus were modified without disturbing the owners. The operation is hailed by the press and the owners of Lexus. Trust has been acquired, everyone now knows they can count on their Lexus.