The Chief Engineer for the fourth generation of the Lexus GS says the car he was tasked with developing nearly didn't happen.
Speaking to the Australian press earlier in the week, Yoshihiko Kanamori said that the company did some soul-searching before making the decision to go ahead with a new GS range. The unwelcome conclusion from market research was that the GS was considered sterile and cold, lacking the passion and charisma that its German rivals could offer buyers.
As a consequence, the new GS is a very different beast from the previous model. It has a really throaty engine note and it handles and steers precisely, but without conceding comfort, safety or the traditional Lexus virtues of build quality and reliability. And the 'spindle' frontal styling is attention-grabbing. You may not like the looks of the new car, but it's certainly not bland...
For the new GS there have been some surprising engineering and marketing directions taken, however. Both the two conventional cars (GS 250 and GS 350) have been specified with six-speed automatic transmissions, something unexpected from Lexus when its German rivals are adopting eight-speed transmissions for their own rivals. And it's not like Lexus has never offered vehicles with eight-speed boxes in the past. The current IS F has an eight-speed Aisin transmission and the previous GS 430 was also an eight-speeder, but Kanamori-san says the V8-powered GS will not be offered in the new range.
"The previous GS with the V8 had an eight-speed automatic, but we dropped the V8 engine," he told motoring.com.au. Asked why the GS 460 (or some other V8 successor) was booted out of the GS range, Kanamori basically placed the blame on the hybrid model, the GS 450h that's due to be released here in coming months.
"We had a hybrid GS... the customer could not understand which is the top [variant]. Top speed is the same, power almost the same, price also the same," he said.
"And the hybrid is good for the environment," he finished, by way of explaining why the GS 450h soldiers on, but the GS 460 doesn't.
According to the chief engineer, sales of the GS in America (February was its first month on sale) have effectively doubled the number forecast for the new model. So, on the basis of an early reading of the market, the new GS seems to be on the right track for design, engineering and marketing. Yet Lexus was considering dropping the model from its range...
This prompted us to ask the importer's chief executive, Tony Cramb, whether the GS was a make-or-break model for this new dynamic design direction. If the GS failed, would Lexus return to the comforting womb-like, low NVH, low involvement designs for which it has been known in the past?
"No, it doesn't depend on the success of the [new] GS," he said. "The LFA is actually what's driving the new approach to Lexus engineering, handling and design. So, LFA — there was a thousand lessons learned [by] the engineers. They developed a group of engineering musts that describe in engineering detail, the way that a Lexus in the future must handle; the way that a Lexus must hold itself; the way it points in... there are 500 different measures of Lexus engineering musts that evolved out of the LFA experience and the LFA development program. This is the first car that has benefited from that experience in totality.
"The next one, assuming that it happens, will be the IS."
The GS is one of two new models due in Australia this year, and based on Cramb's comments, the other will be the next generation IS. Information to hand indicates the smaller car will be built on a modified version of the same, all-new platform underpinning the fourth-gen GS. It's the same state of affairs that applied when the superseded GS was originally launched. The new IS followed, as sure as night follows day, about 12 months later.