Code-named F1 for “Flagship One”, the first Lexus vehicle was originally intended to expand Toyota’s product line in the premium segment. Eventually launched as the Lexus LS 400 in 1989, the project was so successful that it ultimately led to the creation of an entire range of new premium products, including coupés, convertibles, and SUV models.
However, the rise of the Lexus brand – currently considered one of the ten largest Japanese global brands in market value – is as much a tale of engineering development, as it is a story of brand engineering.
In 1986, Toyota’s long-time advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, formed a specialised unit, Team One, to handle marketing for the new brand. Image consulting firm Lippincott & Margulies was hired to develop a list of 219 prospective names; Vectre, Verone, Chaparel, Calibre and Alexis were chosen as top candidates. While Alexis quickly became the front runner, some were concerned that the name would be associated with the Alexis Carrington character on the popular 1980s primetime drama, Dynasty, and as a result the first letter was removed and the “i” replaced with a “u” to morph the name to Lexus.
The etymology of the brand’s name has been attributed to the combination of the words “luxury” and “elegance,” and another theory claims it is an acronym for “luxury exports to the U.S.” According to Team One interviews, the brand name has no specific meaning and simply denotes a luxurious and technological image.
The origin of the Lexus slogan developed after Team One representatives visited Lexus designers in Japan and noted an obsessive attention to detail, became “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.” The final design for the logo featured a stylised “L” within an oval, and according to Toyota, was rendered using a mathematical formula. The first teaser ads featuring the Lexus name and logo, designed by Team One, appeared at the Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York auto shows in 1988, one year before the introduction of the brand’s first flagship sedan.
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Image © LEXUS