Lexus has just opened the doors on a gorgeous new showroom in Aoyama, one of Tokyo’s coolest, most fashionable areas. To see it and walk inside, you would think Lexus must be on top of the world.
Reality, however, tells a different story. Japanese Lexus sales fell for the 13th month in a row in September, and are down 25 per cent for the year to date. Lexus should now be doing 50,000-60,000 units a year but 30,000 for this year looks about tops.
Yes, the credit crunch and Japan’s shrinking market are obviously having an effect and to be fair to Lexus, it’s only been up and running here since 2005.
Even so, why hasn’t Lexus taken off? Because the brand power of Mercedes and BMW is so ingrained here, that’s one answer. Lexus’s showroom atmosphere has been criticised for being overly stiff and formal, especially for young Japanese, and the model range looks small next to the array of metal offered by the premium importers.
Toyota, as ever, is in for the long haul, however, with Lexus and when the next wave of cars come along, including the new small Lexus hybrid that’ll debut at Detroit in January, its posh sub-brand could start to turn the corner here.
Meantime, Lexus’ travails are prompting Nissan and Honda to think very seriously indeed about whether they want to launch Infiniti and Acura here.