Q&A: Lexus chases new breed

LEXUS Australia is breaking boundaries. Toyota’s luxury arm plans to expand its presence in Western Sydney, where you won’t find Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

In February, Lexus announced a V8 Supercars pace car sponsorship, and hasn’t ruled out a race car assault when new rules come in for the 2017 season. At the same time, Lexus launched its first-ever rear-drive V8 coupe in Australia, the RC F.

Lexus Oz CEO Sean Hanely talks to Wheels about Lexus’s new direction.

Is Lexus Australia chasing a new kind of customer?
What we’re trying to do is increase the consideration list for Lexus across a broader base.

So a different kind of customer?
No, not a different kind of customer per se, but we’ve analysed very carefully the luxury market. What we understand both factually and statistically is that luxury market growth is being driven largely by people coming out of mainstream brands. What we’re seeing is, I call it the democratisation of luxury. In simple terms, luxury has no boundaries.

That’s very Henry Ford of you. So everyone can buy a luxury car?
Well, people have more access to it now than they did 10 years ago. [Australians are] wealthier than we’ve ever been, cars are more affordable than they’ve ever been, our economy is generally quite strong in global terms.

We may pay more for luxury in this country, but more of us [have the means to] get there. Lexus has always been positioned as an aspirational brand. We want to appeal to everybody.

The RC F coupe is considerably cheaper than rivals. If the product is good enough to compete against BMW and Mercedes-Benz, why make it cheaper?
Lexus prides itself in presenting the market with great quality, great engineering and superior value. So this direction is very clearly aligned to our direction of the last 25 years.

On top of that, we don’t offer only great value [and] high levels of specification, we also offer superior customer service, and this is the strategy that Lexus is built on.

Yet you’ll still have what you say is the best customer service, even if the car costs the same.
You know, Lexus is a progressive luxury brand. To attract luxury buyers, you’ve got to be achievable. You’ve got to allow those that aspire from the mainstream to step up. Lexus and the RC F, it’s perfectly positioned to say to those step-up buyers and even those buyers in that current market, ‘Guess what, here’s a red-hot value prestige luxury car that you can afford’. And we’re inviting people to look at our brand and our performance credentials, and that’s clearly where the RC F is aimed at.

What are Lexus’s growth targets in Australia?
Five percent [per year] is what I’m targeting in this product cycle (five years). I often say 5-10 percent. Realistically, if we got five percent growth year-on-year between 2015 and 2020, we’d be happy.

But a flat new-car market is predicted in 2015.
I think the market overall may see some marginal growth on the previous year. I don’t expect it’ll drop dramatically, probably flatline. But I think the luxury component will grow again.

We’ve set our plans for the next five years, and our growth targets are not unachievable, and they’re not unrealistic.

The decision to compete in V8 Supercars: is it Lexus Australia’s decision, or Japan’s?
It’s 100 percent driven by the Lexus Australia management, and the board of Toyota Motor Corporation Australia. We as the Lexus brand will do the evaluation thoroughly. We’ll make a decision on that within [the] Lexus Australia group ... and we’ll take that recommendation to our board locally for endorsement.

Of course we would consult with our Lexus global team to ensure that they’re aligned. [But] we ultimately make the decision at Lexus Australia.

Why get involved with V8 Supercars?
V8 Supercars, or our motorsport partnership wherever that ends up – if it ends up anywhere – is simply to put the Lexus brand or Lexus performance on the consideration list. [It’s not] being driven by other luxury manufacturers entering the V8 Supercar space. In truth, we didn’t even think about it.

Little f, big F

Lexus revealed the LF-SA at the Geneva show as an Audi A1 rival, yet the next piece of the Lexus puzzle for Australia is its answer to the BMW M5: the GS F sedan (pictured). Packed with the same 351kW 5.0-litre V8 as the RC F, it’s due in late-2015, priced at about $180K, undercutting the M5 by a cool $80K.

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