released on July 2003
Chairman, Toyota Motor Corporation, 1989
President, Toyota Motor Corporation, 1989
"Over the years we have concentrated our efforts and abilities on quality, reliability and value for the automotive market. But our traditions and capabilities had reached the point where building an automobile in the grand style was a natural challenge to accept."*.
The market was ready for the birth of Lexus — demographics in the early 1980s showed that the luxury vehicle market was growing, and Toyota customers needed a higher-end model. Entering the luxury market would benefit the entire Toyota lineup by building a luxurious image, providing a high unit price vehicle to increase profits and serving as a good opportunity to reinvest capital.
At a top-secret meeting in August 1983, Eiji Toyoda, then-Chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), posed the question whether Toyota could build a luxury vehicle to compete with the very best. Toyota's top-level thinkers — the strategists, engineers, designers and management — answered with a resounding "yes." Internally, the project was called F1, not for the pinnacle in motor sports but for the pinnacle in luxury — Flagship 1, a sedan of the highest class, created with the customer experience at the forefront.
"As a designer, you can't determine unilaterally what constitutes elegant style — you also have to learn what your customers mean when they say ‘style,'" said Chief Designer for the vehicle's exterior, Kunihiro Uchida.
Lexus arrives in the US, 1989
Lexus line off ceremony at Tahara Plant, May 1989
A design study team went to the United States, spending time in focus groups and with dealers, getting to know the customer. Going above and beyond the usual process with eight presentations over a period of 16 months, designers and management went back and forth until May 1987 when the final design was approved.
Meanwhile, through tests and more tests, 24 engineering teams of 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians and 220 support workers failed and succeeded, each time learning how to improve the prototype by developing even better concepts and hardware.
But in-house testing can only go so far; so the LS 400 became a world traveler early on, with tests on the roads of places like Sweden, Germany, Canada and all across the United States. Chief Engineer Ichiro Suzuki was determined that the LS 400 could match the European competition, including running at top speed all day on the German Autobahn.
When the first LS 400 was driven off the assembly line in May 1989, it was obvious that this new vehicle would live up to its name — combining luxury and excellence in one word and one brand: Lexus.
Testing on the Higashifuji Proving Ground
* Quoted from opening letter to "Lexus LS 400: The Lexus Story" produced by Lexus, A Division of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., 1989.
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