Lexus will move away from its image as an upgraded Toyota, with the new GS sedan to set the trend.
With a very 'un-Toyota' marketing campaign that included bikini model Tori Praver and racing driver Scott Pruett, Lexus US sold 4900 new GS sedans in two months - more than the previous model's entire take for 2011.
Speaking with business paper Bloomberg, Lexus boss Kiyotaka Ise described the campaign as part of the brand's efforts to move away from the volume-selling Toyota badge as it moves to win buyers back from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The Japanese luxury brand was the top-selling prestige marque in the US for 11 years, before losing its crown to BMW last year.
"To conquer BMW and Mercedes drivers, we can’t just be looked at as an upgraded version of Toyota,” Kiyotaka Ise told the paper. “We want our brand to be chosen for its character and handling.”
Its this thinking that led to the design of Lexus' new 'Spindle' grille design.
Previewed in a simpler form on recent models, the arrival of the complete spindle grille design with the new GS reveals a family-wide style. Lexus may be hoping it becomes as identifiable as BMW's kidney grille design, and the familiar corporate faces of Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
“For any successful brand, you need to make sure there’s some distance,” Lexus product and planning boss Karl Schlicht told industry paper Automotive News.
“We don’t want to be known as a Toyota plus; that’s not what people pay for premium.”
The Toyota engineering and name association is far from hurtful however, with Lexus topping a J.D. Power & Associates survey in February as the most dependable brand in the US market.
The survey also showed that Toyota, despite a rough patch in recent years, led the industry with the fewest reported problems from car owners.
Buyer retention has been a weak point for the brand however. In the US, J.D. Power figures show that 30 percent of Lexus buyers typically leave for BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
The push for a new unified image, and the more enthusiast-focused driving experience offered with the new GS, could make the difference.
"In the GS 350 F Sport, there’s a sports sedan that’s not too far off the pace set by its BMW rival," TMR's Tony O'Kane wrote in April. (See full GS review here.)
While many earlier Lexus cars focused on sophistication and luxury first, and performance second, the 'new' Lexus makes the latter a top priority.
Kazuo Ohara, a senior manager at Lexus, said that Toyota president Akio Toyoda would have killed off the GS line if the right balance could not be found, rejecting "at least" three prototypes before approving the new model.
Lexus Australia CEO Tony Cramb is confident the new GS' look and feel will resonate with younger buyers - and poach loyalists away from its European competitors.
"This segment is very well defined. Buyers in the large luxury car segment are almost always male, and very wealthy - and they can have just about whatever they want when it comes to their choice of car," Mr Cramb told TMR at the unveiling of the new GS.
"Frankly, we've struggled to attract that type in the past, but this model, its styling and handling, we're very confident it will change all of that."
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