Toyota proudly notes that its wildly successful Lexus division debuted exactly 20 years ago at 1989's Detroit Auto Show. The cars that started the brand were the LS 400, a Benz S-Class fighter, and the ES 250, a Camry-based sedan with a V-6, frameless windows, and stellar fit and finish.
Despite a chorus of doubters, Lexus quickly established itself as a formidable contender, sending both engineers and marketing managers at rival German luxury car makers back to the drawing board in attempts to produce cars as reliable, efficient, and affordable as the Japanese upstart. Consistency has been Lexus hallmark - to this day, it is nearly impossible to find a Lexus product that doesn't offer remarkable quiet, finesse, and serene operation in every imaginable driving scenario.
2010 Lexus HS 250hEnlarge Photo
Then again, critics have aimed squarely at Lexus' inoffensive nature, lobbing insults like "bland" and "vanilla" at the automaker. True, perhaps, but Lexus' sales numbers tell a very impressive story regardless. And accolades through the years from all the major automotive journals like Automobile and Car and Driver suggest that the brand has succeeded in its relentless pursuit of perfection.
To be sure, Lexus has built some slow-sellers, vehicles that haven't resonated so well with U.S. tastes. Replacing its fantastic SC 300/SC 400 line, for example, with the uncomfortably tight and expensive SC 430 folding hardtop was a true head-scratcher. On the other hand, Lexus has led the luxury car world in the gas/electric hybrid realm, producing the likes of the RX 400h and the LS 600h L. True, those models focus more on performance than they do efficiency, but they paved the way in the minds of the Lexus faithful for a hybrid vehicle fitting into the company fold, and the brand new HS 250h, just shown in Detroit and going on sale this fall, finally turns fully toward uber efficient operation by using the proven powertrain from the Toyota Camry hybrid.
Concludes John F. Thompson, editor of Toyota's Open Road blog, "this use of technology that didn’t even exist 20 years ago is a pretty good way, we think, to begin our second 20 years in the pursuit of excellence."
Happy birthday, Lexus, and congratulations on a remarkable first 20 years.
2009 Detroit auto showEnlarge Photo