Lexus considers the 2022 Lexus LX the fourth generation of the SUV first introduced in 1996. But, unlike the previous two generations, this is more than a facelift.
The new Lexus LX 600 is built on the TNGA-F platform that underpins the Toyota Tundra, and is powered by its 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 and 10-speed automatic transmission, rather than 2021’s V-8. The LX 600 comes in Standard, Premium, Luxury, F Sport, and Ultra Luxury trim levels, with the latter two being new for 2022.
The new model is the first one to be sold in the United States without a comparable Toyota Land Cruiser alongside it.
We spoke to Vinay Shahani, vice president of Lexus Marketing about that decision, and its decision to expand the LX’s range. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
TheDetroitBureau: Let’s just start with a very simple question. What do you want the current the new LX to do that the current one did not?
Vinay Shahani: Well, I believe that this next generation, the fourth generation LX, is a true flagship SUV of the Lexus brand. It really builds on that legacy, but also reflects the elements of the next chapter of our brand that we want consumers know about, whether that’s driving dynamics, bold styling, or intuitive technology. Intuitive technology, frankly, has been an Achilles heel for us.
You know, if you look at the infotainment (system) in the outgoing model and compare that to the Lexus interface, it’s light years ahead of where we were. And I think in many cases, particularly with the younger consumer — Gen X families, Gen Y families — they’ve really looked for a level of technological advancement that, in many cases, we haven’t been able to achieve until now.
TDB: One of the interesting things you’ve added is a reclining rear seat with the ottoman, which pairs very nicely with the rear seat entertainment. But there’s no wireless controller or wireless headsets on that.
VS: Yeah, I’ve heard this before. And certainly, I think there’s maybe an opportunity to improve that. But I will tell you that you look at the way that products get developed and you have a set budget in terms of what you can spend the R&D dollars on, and you make some decisions based on what you think the priorities are. Certainly developing that ultra-luxury package was a bit of a bet, to have that kind of executive-focused second row reclining seat with the ottoman takes some budget. Therefore you make some decisions on the other side to say, “okay, well, I’m going to give up X,Y and Z.” I’m not saying we specifically said, “oh, we’re going to trade off wireless for something like that.”
But my point is, we had to fix certain things that we knew were a problem. We needed an improved powertrain that delivered better power, better fuel economy, and I think we’ve delivered on that. Personally, when I drive these vehicles back-to-back, comparing the outgoing model and the new model, I don’t feel that we’ve left anything out by not having a V-8. I think this twin-turbo V6 is more than adequately powered. The car feels a lot more nimble, even though it’s slightly larger. The towing capacity has gone up. There’s obviously a weight reduction through the use of aluminum panels around the vehicle. I think ultimately, the package is pretty spectacular.
TDB: The new LX 600 is based on the new Toyota Land Cruiser that’s being offered worldwide, but not in the United States. Yet in 2021, sales of the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX were evenly split. Do you think you’re going to lose some customers even though their prices were pretty close?
VS: Yeah, I think you’re going to naturally see a little bit of defection. But I do think just by virtue of the vehicle being fundamentally based on the new Land Cruiser, I think we have a very credible argument to Toyota Land Cruiser customers who are looking for the next generation (vehicle) to consider Lexus.
From a pricing proximity perspective, I think you check that box and certainly from a value perspective, when you look at everything that you get with this model in terms of driving signature, the powertrain, the adaptive variable suspension, the active height control, the infotainment that comes with the vehicle, which is a huge increase in reality — relative to the outgoing model — whether you’re looking at the Toyota brand or the Lexus brand. So, I think you have enough there to make a compelling argument to come in and look. I think that there’s a little bit of risk, but I think overall, the upside is definitely there for us.
TDB: Has there been a lot of defection from LX or defection from the brand because the LX was an older vehicle?
VS: We don’t see a whole lot of overall defection; we have a pretty strong level of loyalty. We do get a chance to talk to some consumers that do choose to move out. Some of them want something new. Some of them want better infotainment. Some of them want better fuel efficiency. Fortunately, I think we have a lot of the answers to those questions with this new model, and when I look at the target customer, which is a Gen X couple in their 40s, maybe early 50s, the infotainment has been a big issue for us in the past.
TDB: How big of an issue was that?
VS: It was a big issue and I think we’ve corrected it. Our Connected Technologies Team went to the head office in Japan and said, “Look, we think we can do a great job developing the infotainment system.” And they did such a great job that our senior executives in Japan said, “go ahead and do it for the rest of the world.” And I think they’ve delivered a system that’s intuitive and easy to use, both from a customer perspective and also from a voice activation perspective. And also having the creature comforts that a lot of Gen X and Gen Y customers want, like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, that type of thing. So, I’m pretty bullish when it comes to this next generation model not only from a loyalty perspective, but from a conquest perspective.
Running with the bigger dogs
TDB: I know the Lexus LX comes in three rows. Is it big enough compared with its larger competitors?
VS: Yeah, I think it is. I think especially when you look at the use cases, for three rows when you are using the three rows in most cases, I think the leg room comparison, including knee room, including space that you would need, I think we’re comparable.
I think where you lose out, in some cases, is space behind the third row, especially to some of the domestic competitors. But again, I’m not so concerned about it. I think we’ve seen a level of demand for the current model that’s much higher than what we’ve been able to build. So, I’m not worried about it. I do think we’ll gain share. There will be a sliver of the market that will say, you know, I want something much bigger, in which case they’re going to have to go to another brand.
TDB: Can we expect to see maybe a hybrid model in the future?
VS: You know, I’ve gotten that question before. We don’t necessarily speak to future product launches. You know, we’ve stated where we’re going you probably saw Akio’s announcement a few weeks ago of where the brand is going globally in terms of electrification. It would certainly be a nice thing to add, but I can’t comment as to whether or not it’s in the plan.
TDB: So, who do you see as the prime competitors to this vehicle?
VS: In my opinion, it’s this sub-segment of prestige luxury, which includes vehicles like the BMW X Seven, the Mercedes GLS, Range Rover, Infiniti QX 80. From a domestic perspective Lincoln Navigator and the Cadillac Escalade. I think the main thing is we are fortunate that we have such a strong level of loyalty and return to market. So, while we do keep an eye on the other luxury carmakers, our true competition is with ourselves and making sure that we can bring a lot of these family members back into the family.