Interview: Koji Sato, Executive Vice President, Lexus International
11th Aug 2019 8:00 am
Koji Sato talks about improving the driving characteristics of Lexus models, focus areas for the Indian market and collaborating with Toyota on electric and hybrid cars.
Lexus entered India a couple of years ago in a modest way. What are your plans for the market? Would you look at local assembly once you cross a certain volume target?
Production is not really an important issue for us right now. In the beginning, we believe we have to look at market demand and a better car. Whether we sell locally produced or import models, it all depends on the future growth of the Indian market. For now, as a company, we are focusing our efforts on making a better car for our potential customers in India.
How is Lexus readying for the advent of new-age technology like electric drivetrains and autonomous control? Some say Lexus has been lagging behind on some of these fronts.
Well, I would say that is not entirely correct. We believe that when it comes to electrified and autonomous vehicles, we also need to look at the market conditions and the state of the available infrastructure. And it’s important that we match the readiness of both those aspects. So in that sense, we’re not behind as far as new technologies go.
With EVs coming in sooner rather than later, do you think this is going to be an opportunity for you to redefine the Lexus brand?
Yes, I think so, especially with EVs. It’s a big opportunity for us to change the structure of the vehicles by using batteries. We are the pioneers of hybrid technology and have enough knowledge to manage hybrid systems. That will help us enhance EV technology, so it’s a great opportunity to make a better car.
With so many forms of electrified vehicles – battery electric vehicles, hybrids, fuel-cell vehicles – is there a big concern that returns on huge investments won’t come soon and profits might not be very good?
Both Toyota and Lexus are collaborating on electrified vehicles, working together to save costs, especially on the battery. The timing is also really important. We are not rushing to introduce EVs because fuel-cell vehicles and plug-in hybrids are also candidates for the electrified vehicle market.
We want to match market demand, which is really different for each country and region.
Do you think Lexus is at a disadvantage when it comes to the heritage and history of the brand, especially when compared to some of your luxury car competitors?
Since our brand started, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), good ride comfort and superior finish have been aspects that have defined brand Lexus. We proudly say that this sets us apart. Now on top of that, we are adding our unique driving ‘behaviour’ or dynamics, especially after the LC. And we will do this for each model in our line-up. This I believe will only further help us elevate the Lexus brand and add uniqueness to its appeal.
We’ve spoken about driving dynamics, but Lexus is also focusing on styling. Is this another pillar of distinction for you?
Yes, certainly. At Lexus we have four pillars – design, new technology, driving dynamics and Takumi craftsmanship. All these four pillars or characters create Lexus’ uniqueness. Design and driving dynamics are the two main areas of focus for us.
Taking a look back, when the LS400 debuted, it was a disruptor in the luxury car segment. But today your global volumes are around 690,000 units, while volumes for your competition are over 2 million each.
As a matter of fact, we are not setting a volume target or a profit target. We want to be a very unique brand and have a unique character for each model, which will help our customers enjoy the car more. That is our highest priority. Our target is to make a better brand and satisfy our customers.
Lexus LC500h to launch in the next 12 months
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