Aggressive. Radical. Different. These are just some adjectives heard muttered by the crowd witnessing the launch of the 2018 Lexus LS in Singapore. But what is the one word Koichi Suga uses to describe his own creation?
“Original,” the chief designer of LS answers.
Making one of only two international pit stops (the other was US) to unveil his creation, Suga places Singapore as one of the biggest world markets for Lexus.
He visited the country back in 2014 to meet local LS customers and was even invited into their homes to eat and be merry. Notwithstanding, the trip was very much tactical. He wanted to gather pointers of how these well-heeled clients feel, or want out of, a Lexus LS revamp.
Since the 1989 roaring premiere of the first-generation LS (short for Luxury Sedan), it has been the benchmark for Toyota’s upmarket marque. Twenty-nine years later, and six years in the making, the new 2018 Lexus LS manages to get everyone talking again.
Looking sportier and almost eccentric, it bears a coupe-like silhouette. Suga beams, “It’s shorter, curvier and has a sexy body.” For a bold effect, he made sure the tyres were larger too.
But it is the provocative spindle grille that is pegged as the most controversial part of the car design. Asked how he feels about all the naysayers, Suga retorts without batting an eyelid, “It’s okay if they don’t like it.
“But of course, when you see it for the first time, you are going to think: Wow, it’s too aggressive. When you become used to seeing it though, I hope you will see it for what it is.”
Sporting a more 3D shape, the spindle grille attached to the fifth-generation LS has apparently 5,000 surfaces. It seems to flow to all the other lines of the body, including the enlarged side grilles and to the wheels.
“When we were kick-starting the revamp in 2012, Lexus was changing to a new direction. People told Akio Toyoda [Toyota’s president] that they were getting bored and there was no emotional appeal. I took two years to get the approval of my design from our president.
“Radical design alone is not very difficult, but having sophisticated elements and quality touches — that takes time,” Suga says.
So how does the veteran designer with 30 years of experience decide on the best design? It would seem his trick is to sketch on Post-it notes. “I used to always draw and sketch on a big piece of paper. There is no deep thinking involved with that.”
Suga believes that within a big idea, you need to zoom in on certain elements to perfect it. He uses professional skating as an example. “My wife loves ice-skating so she and I would watch it on TV all the time but it’s hard to understand what the difference between a high score and low score is. They do it so smoothly but the height of a jump and the littlest of technique make that difference. So having small Post-it notes give me restriction – to sketch accordingly and if I don’t have enough space, I have to think about the lines, ways to simplify or draw it completely differently. It’s a way to challenge myself. I use both sides of my brain this way!”
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While the car’s exterior is no doubt unorthodox, the insides are less so. Inspired by business class seats on a plane, the rear seats, separated by a centre armrest, are a little snug. Yet, they are quilted to perfection and curve in all the right places to envelop passengers in a comfy cocoon. There’s also ambient lighting inspired by the gentle illumination of the Japanese lantern.
All this is part of Lexus’ endeavour to see itself as more than just a luxury automotive brand. It wants to be a full-on luxury lifestyle icon with the vision to deliver amazing experiences. Suga explains how owners are buying into an experience with the 2018 Lexus LS. “Once an owner changes to a new car, they might want to change their fashion sense too. They might feel younger and more motivated to go to a new place. So I hope that when he or she purchases [this] new car, they would want to experience something different.”
So has the chief designer experienced the all-new 2018 Lexus LS for himself? And does he catch people bemusedly looking at his radical design when he’s driving it? He replies, “Yes, I’ve driven it a couple of times. But no, nobody’s looked at it because when I drove the car, it was somewhere in the countryside where there was hardly anyone.”
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