Existing customers love Lexus’ polarising new styling direction with the distinctive ‘spindle’ grille, says the Japanese company’s local chief executive Sean Hanley.
Traditionally a more conservative offering than price-point rivals such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the company has for a few years been hell-bent on sexing up its image and luring younger buyers with edgy styling.
The new styling language, called L-finesse, has been signposted in radical forms on concepts such as the LC-CC, LF-LC, LF-Gh and LF-NX, and on new-generation road cars released in part over the same period including the GS launched here in April 2012, followed by the IS, ES and NX.
Updated versions of the CT, LS, RX and LX have also brought the company’s older models into line, each taking on cues such as the bold hourglass-shaped grille.
The chief intention throughout this process was to get a new audience looking at Lexus globally as a desirable alternative to the German luxury superpowers. The Japanese brand always had a band of loyal repeat customers, but needed more cut-through to progress in existing markets.
According to Hanley, the L-finesse strategy has yielded a double benefit for the company research tells it that it is attracting a wider demographic, but also that the company’s loyalists, far from being too conservative, are also in support of the changes.
“What we’re seeing is our existing customers love the new look and love being part of the Lexus brand. But what were also seeing is over time the new spindle grille and L-finesse styling is attracting a whole new group of people to the brand.
“Our marketing metrics are showing that our consideration of luxury and non-luxury buyers is on the increase. This is the first time in years that we’ve seen marketing metrics go up positively like that. It’s all about the bold confident new looks, clearly the research is telling us its working.”
Hanley earlier addressed an obvious question: “We’d never do anything to alienate our current customer base,” he said.
Despite this claim, Lexus sales have stalled in the past two years compared to rivals from Germany, all of which have grown by double-digits on the back of new entry offerings from relatively low prices and more SUVs.
In 2012, the GS (launched that April) grew 450 per cent in volume, up from 114 units to 624 annually. This was single-handedly responsible for the company’s 7.8 per cent annual growth rate that year, higher than Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz on relative terms.
But in 2013 this growth plateau’d to 1.2 per cent to 6920 sales, while to the end of September 2014 the company has grown volume by just 0.2 per cent. Lexus sales peaked at 8199 units in 2007, and have not recovered.
That said, with the new NX300h on sale now, the NX200t (with a range-first turbo-petrol engine) and RC coupe arriving within months, and the likelihood of an IS200t at some point in the short-term future (this is not confirmed), it would be reasonable to expect a bounce.
The company has previously signalled its intent to grow volume by between 5-10 per cent every year out to 2018.
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