On Thursday and Friday, I went to Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. I did not go for the scenery, but to watch Lexus’ new crossover, the NX, come off the line. I did that. And I did something else. I experienced the birth of a duck. In the business, the French word “canard” (duck) stands for “false or misleading report or story,” and this is the story of how a canard was hatched.
Since yesterday, you undoubtedly have heard the reports that a new Lexus LFA “has been confirmed.” Don’t sell that house, or cash in that 501K just yet. I have to disappoint you, the reports are bogus.
“As we first reported back in 2012, a next-generation LFA is in the works,” wrote Autoguide. “Our insider’s tip has now been publicly confirmed by company Executive Vice President Mark Templin.” Not true. Templin did no such thing. Autoguide’s inside sources fit in a shot glass.
Boldride wrote: “On Friday, Lexus’ executive vice president Mark Templin told reporters that the company has plans to build a next-gen version of the LFA.” No, he did not say that.
“Lexus LFA 2 confirmed for production by Lexus,” wrote Clublexus. “Even LFA 3 is being planned already.” Baloney.
Now that I either disappointed, or enraged you, I give you the rare opportunity to witness the production of what is passed-off as news these days. I will give you the complete transcript of the Mark Templin interview as it pertains to the LFA. How did I get it? I was in the room, and had my recorder rolling.
On Friday, we were given the choice of riding in a brand-new Lexus NX, or to meet Mark Templin on the fourth floor of the Rihga Royal Hotel near the main station of Kokura, Kyushu. I am not a big car tester, Mark Templin was the better offer in my eyes. Most of the media disagreed, and went driving.
In the meeting room was Mark Templin, Executive Vice President of Lexus International, accompanied by PR Manager Brian Lyons. There were two reporters, Craig Trudell of Bloomberg, and Martin Koelling of Germany’s Handelsblatt. And there was I. The interview took an hour and touched on many points. It ended with the following questions and answers, which are brought to you unedited.
Craig Trudell: “We were talking with Fukuichi-san last night, and we were talking about one of his favorite topics, the LFA. We were talking about the supercars, and the high-end halo cars, and the future of Lexus in that perspective.”
Mark Templin: “What did he tell you?”
Craig Trudell: “He did not tell us much. He did have interesting things to say about how successful the LFA was as a project, and what it had accomplished for the brand. I wonder if you would share your thoughts about what LFA did for you, and how Lexus thinks about the future in terms of a halo car.”
Mark Templin: “When we first started the LFA project many years ago, what we were asking for was a $120,000 sports car. And as it went through the development process, it became more technologically advanced, and more expensive because of it. I started to doubt whether we were doing the right thing with that car because it was not like what we were asking for. We saw a niche in the marketplace – we have customers in the market who would buy our car, and then add the most expensive wheels they could put on, and the most expensive accessories, just to beef up the price of the car – because they wanted a more expensive car! They were worried that if they would take the original car home, their wife would think their business was not doing good, or something. They were actually increasing the price of the car with accessories. We saw a niche for a $120,000 coupe, and that’s what we asked for in the beginning. When it got more expensive, we started to doubt whether this was the right thing to do. I knew that it was a great car, and I was really excited about the product, but from a branding perspective, I was really wondering what we would get out of it.
Once we got closer to the launch of the car, we started to strategize, and after the launch, we started seeing all the benefits we would get from it, and I believed it was the best thing we ever did.
The LFA really made people think differently within the company about what Lexus can stand for in the future. It drove us down the performance route that made the GS a better car, and the IS a better car, and the RC was coming to life, and all the things you are going to see over the next five years. And it gave our engineers something special to work on, and get excited about those kind of products. Many of the things we did for the LFA influenced things we did for all the other products. You look at that as a standalone project, and you say, wow, was it worth all the money, the big investment? And I’d say yes, because of all the benefits we would get out of it. Now, Akio believes that every generation deserves to have a car like an LFA. So we built an LFA for the generation we have today. And at some point we should have a special car for another generation. Because he believes that every generation deserves a special car like this.”
Craig Trudell: “Do you think that that special car is in the area of what you were first looking at? A $120,000 coupe?”
Mark Templin: “I think that’s one example of a halo car. I believe today that we can have many halo cars in our line-up. That’s what the F brand is all about. We can have halo cars in this segment and in this segment, and in that segment, and then there is the LFA that stands about everything else. I think we can have halo cars in each of those segments.”
Martin Koelling: “A halo what?”
Mark Templin: “A halo car!”
Bertel Schmitt (in German to his German friend:) „A Heiligenschein-car.“
Martin Koelling: “I did not know that expression.”
Mark Templin: “I am sorry.”
Bertel Schmitt: “It’s a car business term, a car that draws people in the showroom.”
Mark Templin: “It’s like the halo on angel’s head.”
Craig Trudell: “There are plenty of reports as of late that the LF-LC will be green-lighted.”
Mark Templin (grins:) “Hmmm. That’s interesting. You want us to build that car?”
Craig Trudell: “I’d love to see it, yeah.”
Mark Templin (grins even more:) “Hmmm. Would you buy that?”
Craig Trudell (pouts:) “I might need a job at Lexus to afford it.”
Mark Templin: “I am not going to make any commitment. I won’t tell you yes, and I won’t tell you no.”
Brian Lyons: “We all like that car.”
Mark Templin (beams): “I got to show that car for the first time at the Detroit Motor Show, and we got more response from that press conference than any car I had ever shown in my life, and I have done press conferences like that all over the world in many, many different places, and I was blown away by the response for that car.”
Bertel Schmitt: “Ok, build it then.”
With that said, we all went downstairs and piled in the bus to Toyota Motor Kyushu, to watch the first NX rolling off the line. Well, we took the bus. Templin had a conveyance commensurate with his position.
Now, having been the witness of the unadulterated interview, would you say a next-gen LFA was confirmed? I’d say the general idea of a halo car was hinted at, but even the hint was quickly watered down into halo cars for all segments. That “special car for another generation” doesn’t even need to be a super-expensive car. It could be a super-thrilling car, or a super-connected car, or whatever that new generation gets excited about.
Having been a witness of the unadulterated interview, and having (through yours truly) read the face and body language of Mark Templin, would you think that the LF-LC has been green lighted? Since Friday, I would bet money on that it has.
Having been a witness of the unadulterated interview, will you believe anything written in the car blogs? I would not.
Craig Trudell wrote the right thing in his original story that turned into the mother of all LFA rumors. Trudell correctly added: “A second LFA isn’t imminent, and another generation could be about 30 years in the future, said Brian Lyons, a spokesman.”
The headline writer who wrote “Lexus Sees $375,000 LFA Supercar Return After Generation” already took poetic license. The blogs that wrote about their “inside sources” and that the next-gen LFA has been released for production, they simply lied. And if they would have been in Kyushu, they would have gone driving anyway.
Aftermath: On the bus to the NX line-off, a Toyota staffer whispered to me: “A line like that could cost a job.” I mumbled back: “Only if the story is real, and if the car is to be released before 2017.” We both grinned.