TOKYO — New Lexus vehicles have been turning heads lately, but the company's global boss still isn't satisfied with the brand.
In the span of just one month, Lexus has upped the excitement by introducing a sexy new droptop LC coupe, a new full-electric UX crossover and the attention-getting LF-30 concept car.
But Lexus International President Yoshihiro Sawa says he is unsatisfied with the premium marque's positioning. Lexus is still a small player on the world stage, behind Germany's Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, he points out. Its brand following varies from market to market. And in the critical U.S. battleground, Lexus is shackled with an aging customer base.
Sawa doesn't mince words about whether he's content with the shape of things: "Not yet," Sawa said on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show this fall.
His comments came shortly after Lexus showed its futuristic, wedge-shaped LF-30 electric concept car. And since then, Lexus has unveiled a convertible version of its LC 500 convertible for the U.S., along with a full-electric version of the UX compact crossover for Europe, China and Japan.
New offerings may help Lexus tackle one key weak point: low volume and variety.
"Considering global sales volume, Lexus is still small," Sawa said. "We have to compete with our limited volume. That is our difficulty."
The brand's U.S. sales fell 1.5 percent through October, while BMW advanced 3.8 percent and Mercedes-Benz slipped 0.3 percent, excluding vans. Lexus remains No. 3 in luxury sales behind No. 1 BMW and second-place Mercedes.
Lexus last held the top slot in 2010, its final championship in an 11-year reign.
But Lexus is also struggling with a brand image that varies by market, Sawa said. In some markets, especially in Asia, Lexus is seen as a hip brand for young people. But not so much in others. In the U.S., Lexus enjoys high customer loyalty, but its average customer is in their 60s, Sawa said. In China and other Asian markets, the average customer age is in the 30s.
"They are completely different customers," Sawa said. "We have to provide the same kind of brand image campaign, but we have to be careful about each nation's activities."
Sawa said the challenge is providing a unified global brand campaign that can also tailor the message for local needs.
Lexus is trying to do just that with localized marketing campaigns in the U.S. such as its new "Our Greatest Curiosity" campaign.
It asks questions such as "What emotion fits in the palm of your hand?" and "Can the weather predict you?" or "Can you see with your ears?"
The goal is to highlight the human-centric technologies of the brand inspired by an initial spark of curiosity and engineering ingenuity.