This month marks 30 years since Lexus arrived in Australia.
Toyota’s luxury offshoot arrived in late May, 1990 with the LS 400 sedan.
The following decade saw slow expansion of th eline-up with a number of sedans: the medium/large ES (1992), large GS (1997) and medium IS (1999).
But launching a new brand, let alone a luxury brand, isn’t easy — even with the backing of a massive mainstream company with a loyal following.
Just ask Nissan, which gave up on establishing Infiniti in Australia last year after seven underwhelming years on the market.
Lexus has been a slow burn success story.
To the end of April, it had sold 142,931 cars in Australia.
While it’s not a huge number by any means, what’s interesting is how sales have grown.
It took Lexus 18 years to crack 50,000 sales in Australia — but just 7.5 years to sell the next 50,000.
The remaining 42-odd thousand have been racked up in less than five years.
So how has Lexus succeeded where others have failed — or, in the case of other mainstream brands with luxury offshoots, not even bothered to try?
Thanks to existing Toyota models, it was able to beat many luxury rivals to market with the upper large LX and large RX in the 1990s as buyers shifted en masse to SUVs in the 21st century.
It has in recent years further bolstered its SUV stocks with the smaller NX and UX.
Like its parent company, Lexus has also been on the front foot with hybrid technology, including offering the world’s first full hybrid luxury SUV with the RX 400h in 2006 and the world’s first full hybrid V8 sedan, the LS 600hL, a year later.
Since 2006, a quarter of Lexus sales — 28,173 — have been hybrids, more than any other luxury brand.
It has also arguably offered superior value when compared to rivals.
Despite taking great pride in the craftmanship of its vehicles, Lexus has also sold itself as “affordable luxury”.
We’re not sure its interior and exterior design is always on par with other premium brands, but you get more for less on a Lexus — which is a fair selling point.
And once a customer is in a Lexus, many stick with it. Lexus has long focussed on customer service, which in Australia has seen it named Car Manufacturer of the Year in the Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction awards five of the past six years.
If there’s a knock on Lexus, we think it’s in the performance segment.
True, the LFA supercar from 2010 was spectacular, with its 412kW 4.8-litre V10 and 3.7-second 0-100km/h time.
But only nine came to Australia, with a $700,000 price tag no less.
Elsewhere, while a commitment to naturally aspirated V8s is most welcome, there aren’t many performance models on par with the best of the German brigade.
The RC F should arguably be that car, but it’s always felt too heavy.
Given Toyota’s recent commitment to re-establishing its performance bonafides with vehicles such as the Supra, hopefully Lexus can soon truly compete with the likes of the M Division or AMG.
The next 30 years will no doubt see further changes, with Lexus set to debut its first plug-in hybrid and a dedicated new battery-electric vehicle platform in the near future.