Lexus’ new signature 'spindle grille' design has been criticized by industry insiders and design experts alike but Toyota Motor Corp.'s and Lexus’ global design chief Tokuo Fukuichi is insistent that design-shock therapy will give it an edge over rivals.
He said that the jagged-edged, head-turning trapezoid grille makes the brand stand out and gives it a “unique” edge over its German competitors Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, specifically in emerging markets like China where customers are more willing to pay more for a car that’s an attention-grabber. Fukuichi is standing by Lexus’ makeover in design.
The 63-year-old Fukuichi returned to Toyota from a subsidiary in 2011 and is a cancer survivor. He said that for a very long time, a committee composed of several dozen members designed the cars. According to Fukuichi, the product was “styling conservatism” that was merely tolerated by everybody but no one was passionate about.
He said that Toyota’s goal had been to please 10 out of 10 but now, the aim is for Lexus to make one out of 10 happy. He added that the request of CEO Akio Toyoda during his comeback to the automaker was to make the cars “cool”, implying that the cars weren’t sexy.
When interviewed before the start of the Shanghai auto show, Fukuichi said that Lexus has yet to be at “a gold medal winning level on the global stage," compared to the topmost German brands or Jaguar, Maserati and Aston Martin.
This isn’t the first time that Fukuichi has been involved in a controversy. Remember the “egg van” in the 1980s? He was responsible for Toyota's first-generation Previa multi-purpose vehicle, which had a peculiar rounded style.
Fukuichi said that people get used to “polarizing designs” after some time. He believes that one should stand out from the rest, kind of like how a movie star gets famous for a physical flaw but the generic gorgeous model is forgettable.
The controversial feature that many people in the industry consider ugly is the spindle grille, which made its tentative debut in 2010 in the Lexus CT and which was later added to the redesigned Lexus GS. There have been fierce reactions to this grille.
In 2012 at a Toyota shareholders’ meeting, one shareholder said that the new Lexus face put a dent on its reputation. Criticism was harsh. Several people inside Lexus said that the grille looked like a horrible deep-sea creature.
According to a former Rolls Royce designer, the pinched-in-the-middle spindle grille was a "design no-no" since it formed an "uncomfortable" tension in the car’s lines and shape. Some comments come straight from science fiction. An American design professor said that grille was similar to the Predator’s mouth.