Lexus will roll out nearly two dozen new models by mid-decade, including an assortment of hybrids, plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles. The new LF-Z concept offers a hint of what’s coming, both from a design perspective as well as the new technologies the luxury brand will bring to market.
Like other luxury marques, Lexus expects to see demand for electrified powertrain technology surge in the coming years. But in contrast to some of its key competitors, Toyota’s high-line brand expects buyers to continue seeking out a mix of solutions, ranging from conventional gas-powered products to those running entirely on battery power.
“Our main goal, moving forward, will be to look at each individual region and their specific needs and then to choose the best (powertrain) alternatives,” said Lexus Chief Engineer Takashi Watanabe, during a media roundtable Tuesday morning Japan time.
Early pioneer doesn’t want to get left behind
Lexus was the first luxury brand to offer a hybrid, a version of the old GS sedan. Like parent Toyota, it has been reluctant to bring out a pure battery-electric option. But, with most of its competitors set to enter the BEV space, Lexus doesn’t want to get left behind.
It has shown several all-electric prototypes in recent years. The new LF-Z is the latest. And it’s also the closest to what will wind up in Lexus showrooms before mid-decade, Watanabe and his colleagues hinted during the media backgrounder.
That includes the LF-Z’s design language which takes current Lexus styling cues in a new direction. There’s a hint of the familiar spindle grille framed by what might seem, at first glance, to be the big air intakes of the LF-C sports car. But this isn’t a standard grille, as there’s no need to feed air into the engine compartment. In fact, there is no engine compartment. The concept’s battery pack and motors are mounted within LF-Z’s skateboard-like platform.
The curvaceous shape of the crossover has a functional purpose, designed to minimize aerodynamic drag, said Watanabe. In turn, that improves performance while also boosting range.
Lexus Driving Signature
The LF-Z squeezes in 90 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries, enough for an estimated 600 kilometers, or roughly
375 miles, of range per charge. (That’s using the European WLTP test cycle. The numbers would drop 10% or more based on the more stringent test cycle used by the U.S. EPA.)
Power is delivered to two electric motors, one on each axle, according to Watanabe. They’re part of the brand’s new Direct4 drive system which splits torque between left and right wheels to achieve what the automaker calls the “Lexus Driving Signature.”
“Direct4 precisely controls the delivery of drive torque from front and rear electric motors and braking force to all four wheels,” the automaker said when it first showed the technology last December. “By automatically adjusting the balance of front and rear-wheel drive, the system adapts the driving conditions to the driver’s intentions, changing the driving feel and giving the car the best driving posture.”
The Direct4 system is paired with a new steer-by-wire system that eliminates the traditional, mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels. The system, Lexus officials claim, provides a more intuitive connection between man and machine. The degree to which the wheels turn can vary depending upon factors such as road condition, vehicle speed and the rate at which the driver turns the steering wheel.
New technologies coming by 2025
The yoke-like wheel anchors the minimalist cabin layout and incorporates switches that let a driver control the LF-Z much as a rider guides a horse by using the reins. The low instrument panel is topped by a large head-up display and makes use of augmented reality to enhance navigation and other vehicle operations.
While there’ll be no production LF-Z, “You will see some form of those technologies … in some of those vehicles … coming by 2025,” said Watanabe. That will include several all-electric products, as well as plug-in and conventional hybrids.
While Lexus plans to continue offering vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines for the foreseeable future, all models will be offered with some form of electrified option by 2025, said Hiroo Tagahi, the brand’s communications chief. And he said Lexus planners expect that those battery-based models will, by mid-decade, generate the majority of the marque’s global sales.
The shift to electrification comes at the same time Lexus plans major changes in its headquarters operations. It is building a new, multi-function complex at the Toyota Technical Center in Shinoyama, about 60 miles north of Tokyo. The new HQ will consolidate design, engineering and management into a single building, an approach Lexus officials hope will lead to greater creativity and flexibility. The complex also will add an assortment of new test tracks — even while retaining 70% of the center’s land in pristine natural condition.
The new Lexus headquarters is expected to open by mid-decade.