Lexus Aims to Dethrone Mercedes in the Prestige Department

You'd rather be seen in a Benz—and Lexus knows it.

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For luxury car buyers, a large part of the allure—perhaps the largest part—is the prestige. The emotional satisfaction of being seen in a vehicle costing more than the average American's annual salary is a powerful attractant. Lexus, while building extremely well-engineered and technically competent vehicles, has always lagged in the emotions-and-prestige department compared to many of its European rivals. Everything else being equal, I think it's safe to say most of us would rather be seen driving an S-Class than an LS. Guess what? Lexus knows that. Speaking to Automotive News, Lexus parent company Toyota's new chief branding officer, Tokuo Fukuichi had this to say: “When you're stuck in traffic, people look at the driver in the Mercedes as a person who has made it in society, and they will envy you. We haven't fully achieved that compared with the German three." 

Fukuichi's plans to rectify this involves distancing Lexus from the perception that they're nothing more than dolled-up, rebadged Toyotas. "Let's clearly define Lexus and wait and decide that some things can only be Lexus and not applied to Toyota. I would like to clarify that sort of distinction," he said, stating his intent to slowly eliminate the words "platform sharing" from the vocabulary of the Lexus engineering department. 

Lexus also recently introduced the LC, a strikingly pretty flagship coupe with the performance to back it up. Reportedly, the Tokyo media launch of this car acted as a bright red signal of a new Lexus on the horizon. A cooler, sexier Lexus. Suits and PowerPoint were eschewed for mood lighting, techno music, and roaming hors d'oeuvres. The LC was flanked by the Lexus Sport Yacht Concept and a Skyjet. The former is a carbon-fiber sport boat powered by the same 5.0-liter V-8 that's powered most of the firm's F cars since the IS F; the latter, a fictional Lexus-branded movie spaceship that looks like an LC mated with a mechanical shark. Both outlandish branding exercises were created in the pursuit of image and prestige. 

Interestingly, in a Kelley Blue Book shopper survey of perceived luxury, Lexus came out ahead of both BMW and Audi—two of the "German three" mentioned by Fukuichi—and matched the likes of Porsche and Aston Martin. It did, however, rank below Mercedes-Benz. But if Fukuichi has his way, there might be a new coolest kid on the block soon.