September 12, 2006 – Torrance, CA - It might be tempting to dismiss the difficulty of building a successful luxury car. After all, the components are easy to catalog: it must have a comfortable and quiet passenger compartment, be based on a reliable and high-performing chassis and drive train, and look terrific.
As always, though, the devil is in the details. How do you actually make a vehicle look terrific? How do you make sure it continues to be aesthetically after it launches?
These questions occupied the minds of Lexus designers as they considered and conceived dynamic styling of the all-new Lexus LS models: the LS 460, LS 460 L, and the LS 600h L. The answers were not as easy to find or as obvious as one might think.
As Lexus designers looked for the proper and appropriate design solutions while working on the next-generation flagship LS, they had two secret weapons in their collective quiver of design tools.
First, they had something called L-finesse. Using the L-finesse precept, they developed the direction in which they needed to go to craft one of the most striking and memorable automobiles ever seen. Second, they had Yo Hiruta, the chief designer of the LS interior and exterior.
L-finesse is at once a simple concept and one that is difficult to explain. The "L" of L-finesse stands for leading-edge, which Lexus officials state has been a hallmark of the brand since redefining the luxury automobile market with its launch in 1989. "Finesse" is typified by striking design, with an air of mystery and elegance.
"Lexus is famous for its specification, for the numbers, for its quietness," said Simon Humphries, project manager at Toyota Motor Corporation's Global Design Division in Japan. "We needed to spend much more time on the character, the personality, of the brand. This was particularly relevant to design. L-finesse is everything that can't be measured by numbers and specifications. It is what's intangible about Lexus. We've tried to define that to guide Lexus in a direction that is unique in the marketplace."
Using this philosophy, designers sought what they call "incisive simplicity," the removal of extraneous elements to reveal condensed purity and beauty. They also sought "intriguing elegance," a careful juxtaposition of opposing elements that creates an experience filled with depth and a profound, mysterious beauty. The result was a luxury automobile that speaks to the hearts and minds of the American consumer.
"Before L-finesse each car [in the line] had many different concepts," said Hiruta. "Each car was very different. L-finesse provided a constancy of design, but not an identical approach to all." This bold personality is reflected throughout the Lexus sedan line up—the GS, ES, IS and now the forthcoming LS series—but realized in each in different ways.
"The LS' face is a very purposeful design statement—it's resolute, determined, dynamic," stated Hiruta." This is done with a high placement of the headlamps, instead of having them in the same horizontal plane as the grille. We wanted to provide a sporty look, a look that didn't say 'prestige' quite so obviously. The special design cues used on the new LS models aren't limited to their face. They continue throughout the entire design of the car."
"The character lines in the sheet metal come from inside, as though they were pushed out by muscle," cited Hiruta. "The look is trained, not over trained. It's a look that says performance rather than show; a very Japanese way of expressing strength and beauty."
"We're a Japanese company so we thought we should find a unique approach related to Japanese culture and history," said Hiruta. "The Japanese way is to be elegant, understated, simple, interesting. Dynamic visual contrast creates excitement, but avoids exaggeration, which is critical to the Lexus character."
To help crystallize their design thinking, Hiruta and his team worked on an interplay between three Japanese characters arranged in a triangle. The characters represented artistry, intelligence and perfection. They were the reference points of the LS' design.
"Artistic, distinct, unique—that's the right side of the brain," explained Hiruta. "Intelligent, calculated, things made perfect—that's the left brain. We use both sides of the brain to make a flawless, perfect product. If it's too left-brain, it's boring. If it's too right-brain, it's too chaotic. We wanted a balance—striking, unparalleled elegance."
"Whether the observer is a right-brained person or a left-brained person, the L-finesse design philosophy has culminated in the LS' uniqueness and its distinctiveness from the other luxury brands," said Hiruta.
The result of the work done by Hiruta and his team presents a gratifying unity of style that derives as much from its careful details as it does from those muscular character lines.
One of the most important design details found on the all-new LS, and the other
L-finesse-styled sedans, is what Hiruta and his fellow designers call the arrowhead shape. This involves repeated use of an unequal-sided triangle, or arrowhead, at the grille ends, the fore and aft sections of the window trim, and elsewhere in the vehicle. It is a subtle and unique visual effect that is easy to take for granted until one begins to recognize how the lines flow from the arrowhead shape, fluidly tying the design together.
"The arrowhead shape is a good example of L-finesse," added Humphries. "It's not something we pulled out of a hat and said, 'Yeah, this is going to be a Lexus design cue.' It was something it was born from the process. This is very important, if it's not born from the process then it really has no meaning. The arrowhead within the window graphic detail gave us an advantage in creating simplicity—two very sharp borderlines. On the other hand, the elegance is represented by a very soft inner line, and this symbolizes the contrast in the design language. So we see the arrowhead cue as not something that's been decided, but something that's evolving over time."
"The angularity of the arrowhead shape is contrasted against the LS' continuous flowing lines, and in the contrast between larger surfaces and smaller, compressed surfaces—indeed, looking at the surface of the LS is similar to looking at the contrasting surfaces of the human body," said Hiruta.
"It's like the inside of your wrist, where smooth skin is interrupted by the contours of bone and tendon," continued Hiruta. "What's important is that the lines feel different from each viewing angle. When you change the viewing angle, you get a different impression of the shape. The character is very three-dimensional."
Another example of the intense detail that went into the design of the LS is the side-window molding.
"This was the most expensive design cost on the car," said Hiruta. "It's die cast, not extruded. It is hand-polished, then chromed. What's very important about it is that the piece's width changes over its long span. It also shows the arrowhead detail front and rear. Finally, it's just two pieces, front and rear."
Why go to this trouble? That is an easy answer for Hiruta.
"We wanted to make it perfect," said Hiruta. "When you stand in front of the door, this molding is the most important part. So we made a large investment on this part. It's beautiful. It's like a piece of art."
The LS lamps, front and rear, also are pieces of art, but art with a hint of anthropomorphism.
"It's the only one like it in the world," said Hiruta of the LS headlamp. "It's like a big eye. And there's an L-shape in the clearance light, there in the bottom, inside the headlight bucket."
"The taillamp is also very detailed, with three L-shaped neon-like sweeps in the lens," he continued. "Small touches like these L-hints, all suggested by careful consideration of the L-finesse philosophy, are important." However, they come with a cost.
"The ratio of design cost to total car cost is higher for Lexus than for other cars," declared Hiruta. The design team paid careful attention to detail, adhered to L-finesse, and dedicated many hours to this project.
This invaluable attention to detail was of critical importance. "The performance and quality between the top brands is very close," said Hiruta. "The other companies are improving their quality. Lexus will try to stay at the top level and the way to do this is through design."
"We're trying to create objects that are not obvious on the first viewing, but that will make our customers want to spend time with them, move around them, trace the lines throughout the car," said Humphries. "We're trying to create something that will give the customer a long-lasting experience with his vehicle."
Only time will tell, naturally, but on the surface, it appears that Hiruta, Humphries and their design teams have succeeded with the all-new Lexus LS models.
And look, I'm not trying to disparage what Toyota does. The tC is a prime example of Toyota beating BMW and Mercedes, and beating them badly in the design department. I and many others have said that it looks more like what BMW should be building than what BMW is actually building.
But c'mon, Lexus is copying, (and has been copying since Toyota launched the division) the Germans so hard and so obviously it's silly for them to be putting out such BS.
I like what Lexus has done with the new LS. But about Lexus copying, yeah they copied, so f'in what!! Its called the car industry, everyone copies from everyone!!! I think the LS's Bangle Butt design looks better here than on the 7. Thanks for explaining L-Finesse Darren. ;)