Does the latest Lexus concept provide a sneak preview of the next LS flagship, potentially due to reach New Zealand within two years?
COMMITMENT to the car that started it all for Lexus is as strong as ever, even though it now captures few sales, the brand’s New Zealand operation says.
Determination to maintain the LS, the biggest and – at up to $300,000 – the most expensive sedan that Lexus makes, as a New Zealand market offer has been voiced by Spencer Morris, general manager of product for Lexus and Toyota New Zealand.
“We are committed to the LS, even though this car now occupies a very small part of the luxury sector,” he has told Motoring Network.
The current car is the third generation of what began as the LS400, the world’s first Lexus and the model that on emergence in 1989 was quickly recognised as a landmark first effort for Toyota’s premium division.
Despite continuing to set a high standard for engineering and technical excellence, the LS has now fallen on hard times because the market preference has shifted from large limo road cars to sports utilities of similar size and specification.
Lexus New Zealand has experienced this: While its two main crossovers, the NX and latest RX – introduced to media in Auckland today – are expected to achieve at least 60 percent of Lexus sales in 2016, the LS will barely register. Just five were sold in 2014.
However, Lexus Japan still sees a future for their historic flagship, Morris said. He assures the next-generation car, due to launch in 2018, will comes to New Zealand.
How closely it will relate to the all-wheel-drive hydrogen-propelled LF-FC concept unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October is debatable.
Already being hailed overseas as the biggest statement in the brand’s 26-year history, the design study would certainly seem to capture the essence of a future flagship and, being larger than the current car, is of the right size even if the shape has changed substantially.
Morris would not be drawn on commenting about what the LF-FC is saying specifically.
“I’m sure we are going to see a much more exciting-looking LS, but it is too early to provide detailed information about what it is going to look like.”
It could be that the LF-FC is mainly pointing more toward a next step in the L-Finesse styling logic, even though it is also a technology showpiece.
But how realistic is that Lexus could produce a car within at least the next decade with the complex drivetrain described for the concept?
While Toyota has a production fuel-cell vehicle in the Mirai, LF-FC takes the hydrogen drive operability a lot further. Here a fuel cell is mounted under the bonnet, a battery pack above its rear motor and hydrogen tanks reside in the space normally occupied by the driveshaft and under the rear seats. These send drive to the rear wheels via an electric motor while a pair of hub-mounted electric motors provide drive to the front wheels.
Again, Morris is cautious about what he says. However, he points out that Lexus takes pride at being a technology leader. He points out the strong allegiance to current petrol-electric hybrid technology.
“We always like to have leading edge technology in a Lexus. Although our first hybrid was actually in a Toyota (the Prius), we have a broader deployment of hybrid technology across the Lexus range.
“So being a technology spearhead is important for the Lexus brand. It is not just about styling, it is also about having the latest technology.”
Similar sentiment has been expressed in Japan by Lexus International president Tokuo Fukuichi.
“Lexus wants to surprise and evoke emotion with its distinctive design and forward-thinking technology. For us, it is more than just a car, and we should exceed conventional imagination. The LF-FC expresses our progressive luxury and hi-tech vision of a not-so-distant future.”
The fuel-cell stack is mounted in the rear end of the LF-FC, while the control module is positioned up front. The hydrogen tanks are, according to Lexus, arranged in a ‘T’ configuration to optimise weight distribution front to rear.
At 5300mm long, 2000mm wide and 1410mm tall, the LF-FC is 90mm longer than the current long-wheelbase LS, one of the biggest cars in its category. It is also longer and wider than a Mercedes-Benz long-wheelbase limousine.
The current Lexus design language that, with RX’s arrival, now adopts across the entire Lexus family here is further exaggerated by LF-FC. There are L-shaped DRLs around the headlights and an exaggerated version of the kidney grille up front. The rear LED lights, meanwhile, are a wilder interpretation of the L-Finesse style.
A set of 21-inch rims feature carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) rims on alloy centres, while the LF-FC concept does without any exterior mirrors at all.
The interior is a blend of classic luxury and futuristic design, with aniline leather covering the upper dash and seats and timber on the centre console and doors.
TFT screens run the full length of the dashboard, and the LF-FC is equipped with the must-have tech of this year’s show, hand gesture controls. A small hologram displays an image of where the gestures should be made.
The LF-FC, while being less overt about its autonomous driving abilities than other concepts at the show, is still equipped with a suite of technology that includes what Lexus calls “elevated traffic environment recognition, prediction and judgement” software.