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Lexus sedans must be sportier to battle SUVs, says brand boss

on May 3 2017 | in Highlights, Industry news, Latest news | by | with Comments Off

The ratio of traditional passenger cars to crossover/SUVs in the NZ market mirrors the concern a senior Toyota executive has over the future of the Lexus range of sedans.

Tokuo Fukuichi (above), Toyota board member, Lexus branding chief and head of advanced design, says Lexus sedans will need to become sportier if they’re to battle back against the growing consumer preference for SUVs.

“Unless we can really offer a sedan experience you cannot have with an SUV or crossover, I think the sedan may not be able to survive if it does not evolve,” he told media in the US.

A look at Lexus sales in NZ over the past 15 months reveals much of what Fukuichi is on about. In 2016 and the first three months of 2017, Lexus had sold 902 vehicles: 719 last year and 183 so far this year.


Of the 719 sales, 521 – or 72.4 per cent – were SUVs. Of the 183 in the first three months of this year, 150 – or 82 per cent – were SUVs. The next best selling Lexus was the IS sedan: 65 last year, 11 so far this year.

Crunching the numbers shows 74.4 per cent of overall Lexus sales in 15 months were SUVs: 902 overall sales minus 671 SUVs leaves 231 sedans (IS, ES, GS, LS), hatchbacks (CT) and coupes (RC) occupying 25.6 per cent.

The new vehicle market in NZ for the first four months of 2017 reveals a similar slant, according to Motor Industry Association (MIA) figures. The top 15 passenger cars totaled 13,072 units. Of those 9247 – or almost 71 per cent – were SUVs.


Toyota’s branding boss Fukuichi says Lexus will address the yawning gap by offering sedans that are more coupe-like in their driving feel and style. This process has already begun with the fifth-generation LS (pictured here), due in NZ next year.

It features more emotive styling, a fastback-style shape, a lower centre of gravity, and has been geared towards owner drivers, as well as rear-seat passengers. “At a certain point of time, the traditional, square, three-box sedan will go away,” says Fukuichi.

The 65-year-old was tasked by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda to tackle any issue to do with Lexus branding, from product planning and technology to marketing and advertising.

Toyoda of course is a recognised car guy – they’re his hobby. What about Fukuichi? “My hobby is tin toys from the 1950s. I have the typewriters too,” he said.

Fukuichi's hobby horse: tin toys and typewriters from the 1950s

Fukuichi’s hobby horse: tin toys and typewriters from the 1950s

“I’m not as much of a car guy as he (Toyoda) is, and I’m not a great driver either. However, I am quite fussy about the shapes and the form of a car. I do like American cars from the ‘60s and ‘70s and European cars from the ‘40s.”

  • Meantime, MIA figures at the end of April have new vehicle registrations in NZ at 50,059 units, or 13 per cent ahead of the 44,210 at the same period last year. That’s average monthly registrations so far this year of 12,514 units compared to 11,052 in the first four months of 2016. If the average continues, registrations will go beyond 150,000 for the first time in the country’s history.


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