Here's the thing about first impressions, you only get one shot at it. For Toyota, it was all they needed for this high stakes game of Poker known as the luxury car segment. They were all in. Forget the Poker face, Toyota said, "go ahead, call my bluff and see what happens..."
The groundwork was laid out way back in 1983. Eiji Toyoda flat out challenged his engineers and designers to build the best luxury sedan in the world on their very first try. This project was called Circle F to those in the know. The F flat out meant Flagship, because this car would have no equal. Chief engineer Ichiro Suzuki took this challenge head on and put out targets that they have to meet to have any shot at being the best.
The sedan had to be capable of 155 mph while achieving 22.5 mpg. Aerodynamic drag had to be less than 0.30 Cd. Back in '83, it was like climbing Mount Everest armed with only a track suit, fork, and a rubber band. It was unprecedented and downright suicidal. People bought Toyotas but when the time came to upgrade to a higher level, people went with the established BMW or Mercedes. Toyota was going to put a stop to that.
Toyota was in it to win it and sent entire project teams to the U.S. to do some intel gathering in 1985. They spent months studying us. They investigated in detail the lifestyles of those who owned luxury cars and what Americans required and expected from a luxury car. I imagine the Toyota recon group went sort of like this:
They broke it down to 5 key points. We want luxury cars to possess a feeling of status and prestige. The car has to be high quality and must maintain a high resale value. It's got to have performance and it's got to be safe.
It took six painstaking years, almost 1 billion dollars, 1400 engineers, 450 prototypes and 4.5 million kilometers of testing before the Lexus LS400 was launched in the United States. All of Toyota's blood, sweat, and tears led to this one commercial:
The LS400 spearheaded the assault for Lexus in an attempt to secure the beach head for itself in the U.S. luxury car segment. It was armed with a 32 valve DOHC 4.0L V-8 via a 4 speed auto to the rear wheels. It had a selling price roughly half of a BMW 7 Series or Benz S-Class.
The motoring world underestimated Japans ability to compete with the established order. When the LS400 made its debut, they were stunned. Automobile Mag pitted the LS400 against its peers and it dominated: "It feels as though Lexus has been building the LS for about ten years...It was swift, smooth, and silent."
Unknown to the public, reinforcements were coming in 1991 and 1992 with the Lexus SC and second generation ES. Lexus is capable of great things when they put their mind to it...proving that if you dream it, you can achieve it.
Photo credit goes to their respective owners