Business / Corporate | FOCUS

Lexus races to fill sports coupe gap a decade after SC's demise

by Craig Trudell and John Lippert


What does 2+2 equal? If Lexus is doing the math, its newest model could be the answer.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s luxury division is finalizing a production version of the LF-LC concept car revealed on the auto show circuit four years ago. Lexus has lacked a 2+2 sports coupe — with two seats in the front and two small ones in back — since its SC models ended production in 2010.

Plugging this hole in the lineup fits with Toyota President Akio Toyoda’s vision to transform Lexus from a maker of reliable if staid luxury vehicles into a brand that elicits passion and emotion. Sports coupes also tend to put a premium on reducing weight for better performance, so a production version of LF-LC could justify Lexus’s in-house work on the light and strong but expensive carbon fiber used on its $375,000 LFA supercar.

“The LF-LC is important to the brand’s overall strategy for becoming a more passionate, performance-oriented brand,” Stephanie Brinley, an IHS Automotive analyst in Southfield, Michigan, said by email. “Moving the needle in that direction in a meaningful way will take a significant amount of time and commitment to product-development programs going forward.”

LF-LC stands for Lexus Future-Luxury Coupe. Past Lexus concepts have dropped LF from their names when going into production, so the coupe will probably be named LC. Brinley said she expects Lexus to unveil LC next month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“Customers have been asking for something to fill the important gap in our product lineup since the demise of the SC 430 and its predecessor, the SC 400,” Paul Williamsen, a Torrance, California-based national manager for Lexus, said by phone. Rather than seek massive volumes in the segment, luxury lines target “very specific customers who really have a strong affinity for your brand and want to make a strong personal statement.”

Lexus will probably put LC into production by 2017 and make only 2,000 to 2,500 cars per year, according to IHS Automotive estimates. Brinley said LC will likely be assembled where Lexus built the LFA supercar near Toyota’s headquarters in Toyota City, Japan.

To compete with Mercedes’ AMG and BMW’s M divisions, Lexus introduced its F performance sub-brand in 2007. While there are now F and F Sport versions of the RC coupe and IS and GS sedans, the brand lacks a lighter-weight flagship to pit against an S-Class coupe or BMW 6 Series. Honda’s Acura division also is reintroducing its NSX supercar.

The LC probably will be priced similar to the NSX, which will sell for about $150,000, Brinley said.

“If you look at our lineup, we sell for a lower transaction price than our German competitors,” Jeff Bracken, a Lexus group vice president, said in an interview. “That’s why it’s urgent that we consider a concept like a premium luxury sports car.”

To limit weight on the coupe for better performance, Lexus may turn to the expertise it accumulated while working with carbon fiber for the LFA, the 552-horsepower supercar that ended a two-year production run in 2012 after 500 units. Lexus has said it would deploy carbon fiber production processes used for LFA on future mass-production projects.

“Going forward, you’ll see us making more and more use of lightweight materials,” Bracken said.

When the LF-LC concept was unveiled in 2012, Lexus said it could accommodate a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. Toyota’s hybrid leadership has allowed the company to make weight-reduction less of a priority than for automakers more reliant on pickups and SUVs, said Richard Schultz, at consultant Ducker Worldwide LLC.

“All the manufacturers are cost-conscious, and Toyota is the most cost-conscious of them all,” Schultz, who leads Ducker’s automotive-materials practice, said. “They will only use premium materials if they absolutely have to.”

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