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Lexus answers your questions

2007-09-21 09:38
The issue of an outdated navigation system was raised by several readers. What is your current stance on this? Why do you continue to market something that is so obviously outdated, and how do you plan on rectifying the situation with current disgruntled owners. Could it be updated at regular servicing and will there be a cost involved? Also, on features, how about including an autolock feature on the current line-up? And when will the full iPod integration kit be made available across the range?

Lexus navigation is a Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) based system unique to Toyota and Lexus products. In a Lexus application, it features our innovative EMV colour monitor with a touch screen, which is, we believe, one of the most user-friendly interfaces in the premium market. As a piece of hardware, general reaction has been positive.

A new DVD featuring the latest mapping will be made available to all existing customers over the next couple of months and will be included with all new vehicles sold.

All IS250 models from October 2007 onwards will feature a specification upgrade that includes automatic locking. It will also be possible to retrofit this option on existing models as well.

Ipod connectivity will become available on all models in the next few months.

There were several questions about the introduction of further derivatives to the existing Lexus line-up. What are the chances of us getting a more powerful, or conversely, more affordable IS? Or the diesel IS promised at the model's initial launch? Or the hybrid long wheelbase version of the LS? Anything to compete with the performance derivatives of what you would describe as being your main competitors? How about an extension to the SUV range and the addition of a higher-end SUV, like the LX?

Lexus strategy is to compete solely in the luxury premium segment of the market. As such, we will never have a 1-Series or A-Class type product and the IS250 will remain our entry into the market.

Lexus only competes in the upper end of the premium segments in which we compete. While this is clearly the volume deficient end of these segments, it allows us to maintain some exclusivity while reaching a sustainable business case for our dealers which allows us to take a stronger control of customer satisfaction.

It is our intention, however, to broaden the product range into different engine derivatives. To this end, IS350, IS-F, and IS220d are all on our wishlist for local introduction. We will not introduce any more affordable model derivative in line with our product strategy.

We are, unfortunately, not in a position to release timing on any of these introductions, simply because we are awaiting confirmation from Japan. The North American, Japanese, and European markets take preference in volume terms to our 3 000 cars a year, but these vehicles will all hopefully be brought to South Africa during the next 18 months.

Hybrid is a strong focus for Lexus internationally and these products, too, are on the horizon for SA introduction. However, Japan is even more stringent with the evaluation and testing of this technology in SA's unique environment of heat, altitude, dust, and fuel quality.

We will not introduce hybrid products to SA merely to be the first premium brand to do so, but only once we are certain of the product reliability and performance. Lexus hybrids are, afterall, performance-biased products in addition to being environmentally friendlier than our traditional products.

To that end, longwheelbase LS600h could be viable. However, this is a very niche segment, and will only be considered by investigation into the demand. We are open to doing our best to satisfy our customers wishes.

We have no plans to introduce products such as LX to South Africa. These are Toyota-based products and we have no intention of badge-engineering any future Lexus vehicles in South Africa.

At the moment, RX350 is the only SUV available to us and its replacement is still some way off internationally. It limits our volumes in this segment considerably because petrol V6 sales are some of the smallest - the largest volumes are captured by diesel derivatives.

Some readers have complained about having to wait up to months for certain parts to be sourced and provided. What is the official mandate concerning this waiting period and how readily are replacement parts made available? Why does Lexus not offer a five-year/100 000 km maintenance plan?

Lexus consideration of the length of maintenance plan is driven by practical reality and cost. A five year/100 000km plan allows only 20 000km a year, a below average figure, which means that in reality, the mileage factor of the maintenance plan runs out long before the time factor.

Lexus' four years/100 000km maintenance plan allows 25 000km a year and a closer end point of mileage and time, which translates into a cost saving that is passed on directly to the customer. It is one of the ways we have made Lexus pricing so competitive in the last 12 months.

In terms of parts availability, there have been one or two teething problems since the start of the relaunch programme last year, however, the distribution of parts to dealers draws on the strength of the Toyota distribution and logistics network - known for its reliability and quality - and Lexus is committed to ensuring that customers do not experience inconvenience in this regard.

How are you planning to improve the customer experience? Several readers noted that this was one of Lexus' weakest points, with good products being let down by shoddy service. The adoption of standalone dealerships may help, but what are you doing, or will you be doing, to make this presence more visible?

Until recently, Lexus dealerships have been within a Toyota environment with common sales, parts and service staff. The consequent volumes were restricting Lexus customer service because of the overwhelming Toyota business.

As a result, we have embarked on setting up dedicated Lexus dealerships. Not only do they incorporate a luxury environment more fitting of our products and customers, they allow focused attention on all customer touch points.

We have so far rolled out Kingsmead and Gateway in KZN, Lexus Polokwane in Polokwane and Fourways in Gauteng with Midrand and Eastrand soon to follow.

We are noticing a vast improvement in customer satisfaction out of these dealerships, but do realize that it is a matter of urgency to get the balance of our dealer network to the same level. From that foundation, we can then grow customer satisfaction even further - it is, afterall, a hallmark of Lexus and one of the factors that made the brand so successful in the US.

What is the real difference between Lexus and Toyota? Just how much of Toyota's componentry is used in Lexus products? Do the close family ties with Toyota, and the possible perception associated with this, not taint the unique identity that Lexus is trying to create for its brand?

Lexus was guilty in the past of badge-engineering some products for use in different markets.

However, since the launch of Lexus' global revitalization plan in 2005, no products will be shared between Toyota and Lexus. Lexus is a luxury brand within Toyota Motor Corporation, much in the same way as Lamborghini is a supercar brand within the Volkswagen stable. Each brand has dedicated design, research and development teams and the products are consequently unique.

Obviously, within reasons of economies of scale, under-the-skin technologies are TMC group technologies, such as navigation. But even those technologies' touch points within the product will be differentiated even further in future.

Shifting the perception that a Lexus is a luxury Toyota is a challenging one for us, purely because of how it has been handled in the past.

Unique products are naturally the pre-requisite starting point for this, and Lexus has unique drivetrains, suspension, chassis design, and styling to give our products their own distinctive look and feel.

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