Inside Lexus: we chat to the company’s chief designer, Koji Sato

Published: 26 December 2017

Earlier this year we drove the fantastic Lexus LC500h, a new hybrid – or V8 powered coupe – from the luxury brand. A highly ambitious project for Lexus, the new car combines innovative technology with some truly head turning looks, and it’s the beginning of a new, exciting direction for the company. So what’s next? We spoke to Koji Sato, Lexus’ chief designer – and possible future boss – to find out.

Just thinking about searching for the future direction of the design of Lexus. We were looking for it to be more unique, more distinctive, more brave – that’s the key word for Lexus design.

The design inspires all Lexus members; the route we should take. All engineers are inspired by this design – the design goes this way, so we need to have this performance.

What about the translation from LF-LC concept to the finished production car?

First, Akio Toyoda said we should make [the concept] real because it’s difficult. If we have some challenges to make it real, we can get something – new technology sometimes, or a new design procedure or something. Everything can be changed by challenging us to make this car. That’s why we made this car a production model.

For this project, the design must not be changed. Otherwise, we lose control of everything.

The dimensions of the car are totally different, but you have the same feeling between concept car and production car. I’m very proud of my design team.

Second, creating the driving taste. So far Lexus is well known for good NVH, reliability and finish. But we want to create a more unique character for driving performance.

Chairman of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, is the master driver of the Lexus brand. He’s especially focused on steering behaviour. He needs clearer response and sharpness, and better response from the front tyres. It’s very important to communicate with the car at low speed and high speed so we always need to have some good feedback from the front tyres to the steering.

That’s why he has the intention to create a unique taste to the handling. So far, with previous technology, if you want lighter steering you lose the torque feedback. If you have more torque feedback then you lose the sharpness, the clarity. They couldn’t be realised at the same time.

Now we have new technology on the suspension and body so we can realise our unique taste to the handling. This kind of taste is not only for the LC. From now, any other model will have the same taste, from LS to IS.

In creating this characteristic it’s difficult because there’s no superweapon. Creating taste is a very fundamental thing. You have to focus on the welding spot number or the body structure, and sometimes the material of the steering column or something. All the small things make a big difference.

How will the next LS differentiate itself from its rivals?

The F segment is for each brand it’s a symbol of the brand. It’s showing the direction and the technologies that they have now. So of course, we believe we have the superior technology for creating advanced safety technology. If you look at the LS you may feel the dramatic shape of the car. The design is one of the iconic points of the new car. The design defines Lexus.

Another differentiation point is the packaging, and also the safety technology is a little bit of a different approach to the other companies. We’re not saying ‘autonomous driving’ – it’s driving support right now and this is a differentiation point with the others.

Also we have the four strings: one is the design, one is the performance, another one is the craftsmanship. Our backbone is in Japanese culture and the Takumi craftsmanship is a major point of difference. Everything is related to our culture. If you think about ingress or egress or the touch and feel, we’re paying great dedication in connecting to Japanese culture. Also in our DNA is build quality so maybe it is a strong point compared to others.

We want to be a luxury lifestyle brand so we try to provide a better experience for the customers through a nice car. If the customer is with Lexus they may have an amazing experience. We are not just thinking about the car, we’re thinking about the lifestyle, so that’s another differentiation point.

By Gareth Evans

Contributor, historic racer and now running sister title Motor Cycle News's website