As a super car, the goal of the Lexus LFA was to be fast and highly maneuverable. With a 0 to 62 mph time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 202 mph, in addition to all the the electronic-assist features one can think of, this supercar from the east accomplishes these goals wholeheartedly. That is to say, we won’t crucify anyone that considers it as one of the best performance cars on the road. But we dare say that the LFA is off to a very rough start in an essential factor that matters to Toyota: it is struggling to fulfill its role as a halo car.
Let me explain. As the first of a kind — a supercar — for Lexus, and as the fastest, most technologically-advanced and most expensive vehicle in its line-up, the LFA was birthed for the sole purpose of shifting our perception of Lexus as a boring mainstream luxury brand to one that exudes performance. This, of course, is all for the purpose of halting the rising average age of the Japanese luxury brand’s buyers, while re-positioning itself against the unstoppable Germans — BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and especially Audi, its direct competitors. But judging from recent sales numbers, we can all agree that Lexus has seen better times. BMW and Mercedes-Benz are on track to outsell their Japanese rival for the first time in 20 years.
But Kwame, isn’t Toyota’s mass recalls and the recent earthquake in Japanese the reason for Lexus’s poor performance, you might be asking. And to that I say yes, but not completely. There were signs that Lexus’s sales would eventually decline in the face of stiffer competition well before any of those events occurred. Those German’s simply had too much momentum, while Lexus had little. This concern was, of course, a major reason behind the development of the almost-mythical LFA. Unfortunately, the long-awaited supercar hit the market at the worst possible time.
Ideally, for a halo car to be most effective in having a positive effect on a brand’s image, it needs to do a good job at garnering media attention. However, any possibility of the LFA getting such attention was thwarted by the media’s salivation over Toyota’s and, by association, Lexus’s recalls. Add to that the media’s obsession over the massive earthquake that hit Japan and the LFA simply couldn’t get the spotlight it needed to make a case. Admittedly, Toyota could have probably done more to promote it — some Nurburgring laptimes here and some random track competitions there — but it is understandable that it had its hands full.
To put things into perspective, the latest Nissan GT-R, the LFA’s cross-town rival, has been a success largely because it commanded the spotlight in the first year of its lunch, a spotlight that was unobstructed. As a halo car, the GT-R is a success because when a young adult (and even journalists) thinks of Nissan, they think about Godzilla. And Godzilla is more than happy to lead these champs into Nissan’s dealerships where they are more likely to purchase its lesser associates. In contrast, think Lexus and I am sure — no empirical evidence here; just my observations — that the LFA is at best a secondary thought, if they actually remember that it exists in the first place. The “boring” IS and LS are sure to come to mind. To its credit the GT-R has been around long enough to initially have a cult following, but that doesn’t take much away from the point I made about the latest model.
Having missed what is probably the most important opportunity — that is, making a strong first impression — what can the LFA do to get back on course? What Lexus needs to do is remind the public that it is the mastermind behind one of the best pieces of automotive technology on the market. This will involve a lot of promotion, moreso than can be expected from it’s European rivals and their respective products, but the LFA is not in the same shoes as these rivals. Sure Toyota is still working on getting things in order from the earthquake and recalls, but the longer it waits the less likely the LFA will become a successful halo car from a marketing point-of-view.