Between The Lines: Lexus’ F Ad

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“The market doesn’t define it that way. …”

I think Lexus buyers, for the most part, do. Whether they buy a coupe, sedan, SUV, etc. they are thinking of luxury in what I’ve called the classic (traditional Caddy) mode. Not performance.

“The poster Chris above is but one example of a Lexus buyer who defies your definition. When you consider the age and demographic of Cadillac buyers, they tend to skew older and poorer than the German and Japanese luxury marques. There just isn’t much cross-shopping between Cadillac and any of the imported brands in this segment. Lexus is an up and comer, Cadillac a distant also ran that is basically not even a factor.”

I’m sure someone wants a Ferrari pickup, but that doesn’t mean it should happen. Sure Caddy has customers who are older and poorer. That’s the result of relentless downmarketing. Caddy is almost meaningless as a luxury brand (or any other kind of brand). No, there isn’t much cross shopping between the German cars and Caddy. There used to be, in the 70s, but no more. All I’m saying is Lexus customers just want a quite comfortable reliable luxury car – most of them. They are attracted by the same qualities Caddy used to possess – smoothness, grace, and “The Standard of the World”. Most are not looking for a car that handles curves as well as an AMG.

“Lexus gains many a sale from those who’d probably like to own a German car but are afraid to, given the service and reliability compromises that entails. There comes a point that many will trade that seat-in-the-pants intangible goodness for a lower repair bill and better treatment.”

In other words, performance really isn’t their top priority. That’s probably true even for most of the people who still do choose to go with a German car.

“Here’s how you know that BMW and Mercedes are the cachet leaders — they are the benchmarks who everyone else tries to emulate. The 3-series is THE benchmark in the near-luxury segment, bar none, without a doubt. The S-class is the benchmark large sedan, the one that the LS aspires to be.”

Unless reliability is one of your primary concerns, then it Lexus that becomes the benchmark. The Germans would do well to emulate the leader before they loose market share the way the D3 have to the Asians.

“Let’s put all of this another way: Let’s suppose that you are in charge of Lexus. As you look back over the past two decades, you are pleased at your ability to grow sales, but want to tackle the cachet problem and become a taste maker who builds benchmark automobiles. The question becomes: How do you accomplish this?”

If I were in charge I’d say “whoa, who put this on my plate, I didn’t order this.” My company is already building the benchmark for quality and reliability. I’m quite content to continue to improve while the Germans figure out how to build a reliable car. I do like the sales graphs, and I’m reluctant to screw around with a winning formula. Cachet is something my brand already has, albeit of a different sort, or if it doesn’t have it, then evidently it doesn’t need it. When the graph shows me a serious decline in sales, then I’ll start panicking and flailing about with a different product mix. For now, I’m quite happy to have everyone in NA and incresingly in other parts of the world think of my car as the standard for classic luxury.

“Every other successful luxury marque has gone about this the same way: It creates a lust factor for its products. You can go nuts with the walnut and leather, but at the end of the day, that lust will come from some combination of drivetrain and handling prowess, because that’s where the intangible je ne sais quoi of such cars comes from, even for the buyer who tends to drive at 2/10ths all day long.”

I respectfully disagree. I don’t think most Lexus customers care one whit about drivetrain/handling prowess. If they really did care, it’s very difficult to see why they aren’t in a Bimmer.

To put it another way, BMW and MB, and Audi all give their customer plausible deniability. What I mean is the customer can pretend they didn’t buy the car for snob appeal, but rather for it’s driving dynamics – even though most of them don’t really give a damn about how many g’s the car pulls on the skidpad or how well it slaloms through the S turns. Most will find their greatest cornering challenge comes when trying to pull into a parking space. Lexus buyers are honest about what they want – luxury, reliability, and the snob appeal appropriate to the price of the car. They don’t need plausible deniability. That’s why Lexus doesn’t need the F car.

There is a difference between evolving and screwing with the basic concept. I don’t know that I’d classify the German cars as successful, given that they are loosing share to Lexus. Lexus should just keep eating the German’s lunch and not try to emulate them.

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