Lexus, the most deliberate of luxury manufacturers, announced their plans for an electric future, complete with a new EV concept, the LF-Z.
Electrification represents the biggest shift in the transportation sector since the adoption of the combustion engine. Automotive manufacturers have been trumpeting their sizeable investments and unveiling radical new concepts as they push forward with electrification. GM recently announced their electrification plans with a $22 billion dollar investment and the upcoming debuts of an electric Hummer and the new Cadillac LYRIQ EV. This week Volkswagen was kidding and then not kidding about changing the company’s name to Voltswagen (no, not a typo) for their future EVs. The shifts have been rapid and tectonic. And then, there’s Lexus.
Though Toyota and Lexus pioneered electrification with pioneering vehicles like the Prius and RX400h, they’ve been rather conservative (some might say laggardly) when it comes to an embracing of electrification. For Lexus at least, the time for heel dragging is over. With the unveiling of the new Lexus LF-Z Electrifed concept comes a broader electrification plan from Lexus that will include 10 new electrified vehicles within the next five years.
Those upcoming electric vehicles will range from traditional hybrids to plug-in hybrids and full battery-electric vehicles. In Lexus’s words, this will be a “reimagined portfolio” for the company. This will mean an expansion from the current six hybrids Lexus offers to an electrified version of every model in their lineup by 2025.
Lexus also said it plans to open a new technical and business center in Shimoyama, Japan to develop the next generation of Lexus vehicles. Plans include a new multistory research and development center that Lexus hope will foster collaboration across the company. The expanded campus, part of the Toyota Technical Center, will feature the addition of 10 new test tracks and attempt to integrate local flora and fauna, with what Lexus says will be a 70 percent retention of local topography and wildlife. In essence, walking the walk of greater environmental contentiousness. Indeed, Lexus’s long-term goal it for the company to be carbon neutral by 2050 throughout the lifecycle of every vehicle they produce.
At least some of these new electric vehicles will be built from a new EV platform Lexus is developing. Their latest concept, the LF-Z, which debuted as part of today’s press release, is a showcase of what’s in store for Lexus going forward.
Details are scant on the Lexus LF-Z electrified concept. Lexus didn’t release performance figures, ranges, powertrain, or battery information. What they did show off was the interior, exterior, and shared a few choice bits of tech and a lot of allusion to what’s forthcoming.
First and most obvious, the LF-Z is a compact crossover with body lines and proportions that evoke the Lexus IS and UX, as well as the Toyota C-HR and recently updated Mirai. Of course there are what have become common EV concept tropes of very big wheels (made to look even bigger thanks to blacked out wheel arches), slit-like narrow LED headlights, a lightbar in the rear, and simulated continuous glass panels (in the case of the UF-Z the windshield continuing into the panoramic sunroof). Lexus says the LF-Z takes the current spindle grille design language and extends it to the rest of the vehicle with lots of sharp, almost crystalline lines. There also, curiously, a shark fin stabilizer atop the rear hatch that’s reminiscent of modern supercars like the Bugatti Divo and McLaren Sabre.
Inside the LF-Z we find a design almost as clean and austere as Tesla’s. Much of the controls and interfacing coming from a pair of digital screens, one a gauge cluster and the other for infotainment, etc. Here, Lexus is deploying new AI technology that, in their telling, will enter a “fruitful dialogue” with the driver, learning their preferences and habits to function as a “lifestyle concierge” capable of, at minimum, booking a restaurant or finding the nearest charging station for you. Most of this will be facilitated through new voice recognition software.
Overall, the LF-Z pushes Lexus design language forward while looking appropriately futuristic for an EV, all without resorting to the truly radical designs of recent EV concepts from Mercedes and BMW.
Some of the performance promises that Lexus makes go hand-in-hand with electrification. The lower center of gravity and increased acceleration capabilities should be givens (though we can’t fault Lexus for promoting them). In fact, sheer performance is the one area where Lexus has consistently lagged behind its key German competitors. Electrification could be the proverbial stone that fell two birds for Lexus.
Other features are more intriguing. The new Direct4 electric all-wheel drive system will allow for front-wheel, rear-wheel, and all-wheel driving and dynamically modulate power delivery front to back. The Lexus LF-Z also features a steer-by-wire set up for increased control and connection with the vehicle. There weren’t much in the way of details, but these additions, along with increased torque thanks to electric motors, could mean Lexus’s claims about increased performance aren’t just the product of marketing hyperbole.
Lexus has always erred on the side of meticulousness. The details matter. That company culture is probably the chief reason behind why Lexus has been slower than average in adopting electrification. Where some companies are operating on the hope that “if you built it, they will come” in terms of infrastructure and consumer demand, Toyota/Lexus has been more cautious. But, with the Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Cadillac putting so many of their resources into EVs, it would appear Lexus would rather be late to the party than not arrive at all.
The benefit to this more methodical approach will hopefully yield vehicles that uphold Lexus’s lofty reputation for quality and reliability, two things that have been in short supply as companies leap headlong into electrification.
Given this major shift toward EVs for Lexus, one is left to contemplate what all this implies for Toyota. I’d be surprised if we don’t see a similarly seismic shift from Lexus’s parent company in the near future.