When you’ve worked on a car in its variations over 19 years, you get a pretty good idea of what’s th...
Seventeen years after its debut, Lexus, with the LS 460, is producing a product that is in no way a ...
While the Lexus RX 400h provides better fuel economy than the RX 330 on which it is based (~25%), an...
It’s the world’s first V8 hybrid with all-wheel drive. And with the Lexus RX 400 h being the first, the Lexus GS 450h the second, it is the third production luxury hybrid on the planet.
When you get to a realm of vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz S600, the Audi A8L W12, and the BMW 760 Li, you are in a place where there is a degree of engineering that is above the norm. For example, the Audi provides not only an all-aluminum frame, but a W12 engine that provides 450 hp. The BMW also has a 12-cylinder engine, although this one is a V configuration that provides 438 hp. And similarly, the S600 has a V12 engine, albeit one that, with twin-turbos, provides 510 hp. Of course, these vehicles are not just about what’s under the hood, as each of them has an assortment of technologies that is meant to up the ante to Monte Carlo-like stakes (i.e., as in the Principality of Monaco, not the now-out-of-production Chevy), and wood, carbon fiber, leather, etc. that would be befitting to a club that Bertie Wooster would feel comfortable in (well, the carbon fiber would be a stretch, but???).
Clearly, one name is missing from that list. Lexus. Which may be comparatively late to the game of vehicles that have a rather distinctive specialization. It’s not that the LS 460 L is down-market, but it’s not just as up-market as the aforementioned. And so the brand that is in the process of undertaking a global rollout of its products has come to the table with a vehicle that the others cannot match, one based on the LS 460 L, which is the long-wheelbase version of the LS 460. The 2008 LS 600h L is, in the words of Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager, “the ultimate Lexus statement. It provides the highest level of performance and technology, and the truest expression of luxury and ________ of any vehicle we have created.” Yes, there has been a word left out for the moment. It is the kind of word that one doesn’t necessarily associate with the vehicles in this class. So let’s look at the other words.
So what about that missing word in Carter’s comment? It’s this: “efficiency”: “the truest expression of luxury and efficiency of any vehicle we have created.” That word, which generally means the ability to do something with little waste (muda), isn’t the sort of term used in conjunction with “luxury.” But there it is. And it brings us to Moritaka Yoshida, the chief engineer for the LS, a man who worked on the steering and suspension of the original LS 400, which was launched in the U.S. in 1989 and really defined the brand in this market. In his development for the LS 600h L, he went to places like Beverly Hills and South Florida. And one of the things Yoshida and his team discovered—and, surprisingly, admit: “We knew that the LS had not previously been on the shopping lists of the affluent buyer.” They also concluded, “We knew innovation and distinctiveness would get us there.” They knew that they needed to have more power. They thought about a V12. But that would put them on par with their European competitors. What’s more, according to Yoshida, “Simply dropping in a larger displacement engine would have required no creativity. We had the opportunity to be innovative and to expand the segment.” And they took a different approach to developing the powertrain. “To begin our challenge,” he said, “we first pinpointed our performance, fuel mileage and emission targets, then we calculated what size the engine should be. This is the first time we have ever developed an engine in this manner.” The result was the development of the hybrid system that helps provide the performance of a V12, but the efficiencies of a V8. For example, according to Lexus-supplied numbers, the total horsepower of the LS 600h L is 438 and the vehicle miles per gallon are rated (2008 EPA-adjusted figures) at 20 city, 22 highway, and 21 combined. The BMW 760Li, with a 6.0 liter V12 also has 438 hp. But its EPA numbers are 14/22/17 mpg.
One more thing to know. The LS 600h L is being produced at the Toyota Tahara plant in Japan. Like the other LS models, the build of this new model is watched over by takumi, or “Master Craftsmen.” There are 10 takumi, each of whom oversees one of 10 areas of the build: engine casting, engine machining, engine assembly, plastics molding, plastics painting, vehicle assembly, body painting, welding, stamping, and final inspection/quality control. These people make sure the work is done to superb standards. But it is about production. Cars must be built. Speaking of the capabilities of Tahara to ramp up production, Bob Carter described it as “one of the greatest advantages we have.” He noted, “We will adjust our run rates as we do with every car.” The Lexus approach to the market is akin to the Toyota Production System in that it is about customer pull, not push.
But here’s the thing: the plans call for just 2,000 LS 600h Ls annually. Carter: “The LS series, and in particular the 600h, showcases the Lexus belief that every element and phase of production is vital and that building cars is more than just a business—it is an art form.” The 600h is not just another production car.