According to Schlicht, until 2011 there were six Toyota main board members whose remit touched Lexus, although none was really in charge. But then there was a radical shake-up, with Toyoda personally taking overall responsibility for Toyota’s luxury brand. Toyota reversed course on the GS and ordered Lexus be made more separate and accountable. “He attends the design reviews, and drives them all,” Schlicht said. “Under the old management, character got averaged out. Now Akio says, ‘If you don’t get it right, I’m stopping the car.'”
Once the CEO was satisfied with the new GS, it was pushed past the accountants. Schlicht, speaking to us at the Geneva Auto show in March, is glad the car survived. “It’s important because it leads to the IS. Now we will get a new rear-drive compact,” he confirmed. That includes an updated IS F.
The daring-looking LF-LC coupe concept that made its debut at the 2012 Detroit show is another example of the new product planning process at Lexus. “It wasn’t a good car to do in the economic crisis and tsunami aftermath. But we decided to do a concept to stretch the designers [at Toyota’s California studio]. If we had done the business case for a production car first, then there would have been zero chance of it happening. But done this way, there’s a 50-percent chance.” Positive reaction from the public and especially dealers gave it impetus, and Lexus is discussing ways to squeeze it into the cycle plan, Schlicht said.
Some days after the interview, Schlicht was appointed to lead product planning, marketing and aftersales for Toyota in Europe. But we understand the new Lexus management culture is ingrained, and that includes a strong influence from North American managers on what Lexus builds.