One of the most anticipated vehicles in years is the Lexus LF-A, a 550 horsepower, V-10 engined, 2 seat wonder, built from carbon fiber and aluminum. Taking seven years to develop, only 550 LF-As will be built, at a price of $375,000 each.
But the price, far above the most expensive Lexus (the LS Hybrid), is not the most striking aspect of this product. Toyota’s effort to market this special vehicle gives the most pause.
Lexus has one challenge ahead — creating a brand worthy of commanding the $375,000 price tag. While Toyota has been successful with marketing the luxury division, Lexus is not considered in the same league as Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, and Lamborghini, where customers are willing to pay for not only a luxury car but a luxury car maker heritage. Thus the goal of the LFA is to be a halo car for the brand.
First, Toyota released video of the LFA being driven on the Nürburgring race track. The video was meant to display the sporting aspects of the car and reinforce the special development of the vehicle. Nürburgring is a very technical handling oriented race track on which many manufacturers have used for race car handling “cred” for vehicles as well as engineering development (Cadillac’s CTS-V is an example).
Second, Toyota took a few plays from Chip and Dan Heath’s Made To Stick (unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility) by integrating its carbon looming history into the car’s background. Little known fact: Toyota owns one of two looming machines in the world. These looms weave carbon fibers into complex shapes. Toyota has decades of experience. So for the LF-A it used an unexpected fact (Carbon loom) as a sticky point to enhance the technology and experience that is built into the car, qualities that luxury buyers seek about brands like Aston Martin and Ferrari (Hand built quality, racing heritage, and race car-level technology trickled down into production road cars).
Next, Lexus wanted to ensure that its customers benefit from the LFA, not speculators who would only display the cars instead of actually drive them. Having the vehicles seen on the road strengthens the brand, with a special quality given the rare production. So the decision was made to only offer leases on the vehicle (save for Europe), with an option to buy. Moreover, Lexus will court influential customers to sift out speculators. In Automobile magazine Paul Rohovsky, National Manager of Advance Business Development at Lexus, states how Lexus is relying on its customer database, having a call center asking questions and developing a relationship experience.
If this sounds familiar to segmenting and developing strategy using analytics, you’re getting a gold star. Lexus has created exclusivity and excitement through energizing its customer base to help expose its brand to new customers (for more on an example of segmentation, see the Zimana blog post on segmentation and the Orient Express). There are also hints of a shared customer-service provider experience — a leasing program can lead to further customer interaction with specially dedicated Lexus service and sales professionals. This controlled experience mimics online social groups that discuss specific products, such as Facebook Fans.
You can also see a great discussion video by Editor-in-chief Jean Jenning of Automobile with Brian Bolain at Lexus — Brian’s Lifecycle Manager position implies cross function responsibility for managing a great experience for the customer throughout the product usage.
All in all, Lexus’ approach for the LF-A contains solid ideas of marketing, analytics, and customer service detail from which all businesses can learn.