Yoshihiro Sawa tells Autocar why electric vehicles aren't for everyone and details Lexus's plan for future success
Jim Holder
11 August 2018

Lexus boss Yoshihiro Sawa has cautioned manufacturers against focusing solely on electric powertrains, saying such systems can’t meet the needs of all drivers.

The Japanese firm’s parent company, Toyota, was one of the first to invest in hybrid powertrains, but has been slower to develop pure electric vehicles. Lexus has yet to confirm when it will launch its first full EV, with Sawa telling Autocar that the environmental impact of such cars, among other things, needed careful consideration.

“Our philosophy is to provide freedom of movement, so we have to develop technology on all fronts,” said Sawa. “We understand that electric is very necessary, but we can also see that full EV will not suit everyone. You can’t make an electric Land Cruiser work, for instance, and there are people in remote parts of the world whose lives depend on that car.

“EVs currently require a long charging time and batteries that have an environmental impact at manufacture and degrade as they get older. And then, when battery cells need replacing, we have to consider plans for future use and recycling. It's a much more complex issue than the current rhetoric perhaps suggests. I prefer to approach the future in a more honest way.”

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That approach was demonstrated by the LF-1 concept Lexus unveiled earlier this year. It was designed to accommodate electric, fuel-cell, hybrid and petrol powertrains.

Sawa has spent his career under the umbrella of Toyota, working in engineering, research and development and design and planning before taking over at Lexus in 2016. Autocar asked him about the company’s future plans.

What do electrification and autonomous driving mean for a luxury brand like Lexus?

“For Lexus, it's another chance to be different. We can see opportunities with the technology, but the company philosophy set by president Akio Toyoda is that we will never sell commodities. We will always have ‘fun to drive’ as a core asset of our cars and we will never allow technology to lose what we are. We must never be boring. But it's also clear that electrified cars can be fun. The key will be in how you use electrification to control individual wheels. A hybrid, in particular, has potential to draw together the exciting worlds of the engine and electrification.”

Does this present you with opportunities for radical new exterior designs?

“We already have some opportunities, largely because we only have a small model range. As a result, we can fill the gaps differently – perhaps where bigger makers have two cars spanning two segments, we will have one that sits between them. The car industry is like a constellation. If all the stars are too close, then it is hard to see the shape. If they are further apart, shining more brightly, you can see them.”

Where does that leave your relatively normal hatchback, the CT?

“It is still very successful, but the arrival of the UX has led people to ask why we have a hatch and SUV of the same size. We will watch how that market develops and then we will decide on what happens with the CT.”

And does this explain the more radical styling your cars adopt these days?

“In the past, people would say Lexus design was boring. Not now. We have learned that we have to be unique. If something has character, some will love it and some won’t. That’s fine. If you play to the established rules, you’ll always be in a pool. If you play to your own rules, you don’t have to compete.”

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11

11 August 2018
A man with some sense, its a shame others are afraid to say the same.

12 August 2018
Ubberfrancis44 wrote:

A man with some sense, its a shame others are afraid to say the same.

Sounds more like the words of someone with no EVs to sell but a strong incentive to push FCVs. Saying that they "aren't for everyone" isn't a reason not to sell any at all.

There is absolutely a potential market for an electric Land Cruiser - it's not a particularly cheap or light car at the best of times, owners are likely to care about reliability and running costs, not many people offroad more than 100 miles at a time, electricity is more widespread than petrol, and EVs can provide superior traction and wading depth to an offroader.

And all the stuff about "but we don't know the environmental impact of batteries" - actually we do, there have been numerous studies. Cross-referencing with Toyota's own Mirai lifecycle analysis, the manufacturing impact of a Leaf seems to be roughly similar, but the lifetime emissions are down by a half to two-thirds on any reasonable grid mix. Degradation is a non-issue unless you design a battery pack without active temperature control. And the potential for recycling/reuse is a positive - it's making Nissan, Renault, BMW and Tesla money.

Why, also, talk about the slow speed of recharging when 350 kW, 1200mile/hour-capable chargers are being installed right now? How about taking a leaf out of Porsche's book and building some of those, and some compatible cars, rather than peddling out excuses.

You never hear any of this FUD-dissemination from Toyota/Lexus people about fuel cell vehicles, most likely because the Japanese government heavily incentivises their development. (And the reason for that is because Japan has access to large natural gas reserves which could be sold for conversion into hydrogen fuel.)

11 August 2018
The market would disagree, have you seen their sales vs Teslas in the US lately?

11 August 2018
shiakas wrote:

The market would disagree, have you seen their sales vs Teslas in the US lately?

What?! Is funny you bring the US market as an example where on the top 10 cars sold this year the list is crowded by big heavy truck with V8 or V6 engines. So it seems he does have a point overall.

11 August 2018
... and the Model 3 is outsold heavily by the following cars:

Hyundai Elantra
Nissa Sentra
Honda Accord
Nissan Altima
Toyota Corolla
Honda Civic
Toyota Camry

Just to name a few.

11 August 2018
Lexus doesnt make any of these cars

11 August 2018

These guys at Lexus/Toyota can`t find enough of druming the same box. As written, Toyota identified an early move to mass-market hybridization as a brand diferentiator when at the time, advanced turbocharged petrol and diesel engines were already fully dominated by competitors. Where could we find turbocharged petrol and diesel engines from Toyota/Lexus? ... EV environmental impact! What BS is this?Hybrid cars also have Inverters, Converters, HV compressors, Electric steering pumps, Batteries, HV harnesses... Surely, this talk about environmental impact is BS!

Know what Toyota, all those great UN Land Cruisers must still be in petrol or diesel powered for the foreseeable future, not wise consider that turmoil scenarios will be plug-friendly or populated with hydrogen refiling pumps.

So, why stick to hybrid drum against EV drum? That does not make any sense. We need both!There are customers for each of them. Let`s give voice to customers and let them to decide.Toyota is so sticky that they were in the need to pair with a Chinese automaker in order to find a way of having their first mass produced electric Toyota (rebadged). The mighty japanese brought to their knees by the "weak" chinese.

The amout of Prius drivers moving away to EVs is staggering (not). The fourth Prius generationis selling poorly worldwide, its design doesn`t help either, if not for their plug-in version, the Prius sales would have colapsed.

Battery recycling? What are you doing with your team-up with Panasonic for Prius Nimh batteries? Just cover-up to the public? Aren`t you already recicling and holding inhouse know-how?

You just need to keep churning engines on cars aren`t you, after all, the production capacity is already built. That`s why Europe now will get a Camry (as opposed to a brand new Avensis) and the Lexus CT keeps on infinite face-lifts, that, and the 2005 engineered Aygo, way to milk the production capacity...

Repeating lies, doesn`t turn them into truth, move away from it Toyota!

11 August 2018
coolboy wrote:

These guys at Lexus/Toyota can`t find enough of druming the same box. As written, Toyota identified an early move to mass-market hybridization as a brand diferentiator when at the time, advanced turbocharged petrol and diesel engines were already fully dominated by competitors. Where could we find turbocharged petrol and diesel engines from Toyota/Lexus? ... EV environmental impact! What BS is this?Hybrid cars also have Inverters, Converters, HV compressors, Electric steering pumps, Batteries, HV harnesses... Surely, this talk about environmental impact is BS!

Know what Toyota, all those great UN Land Cruisers must still be in petrol or diesel powered for the foreseeable future, not wise consider that turmoil scenarios will be plug-friendly or populated with hydrogen refiling pumps.

So, why stick to hybrid drum against EV drum? That does not make any sense. We need both!There are customers for each of them. Let`s give voice to customers and let them to decide.Toyota is so sticky that they were in the need to pair with a Chinese automaker in order to find a way of having their first mass produced electric Toyota (rebadged). The mighty japanese brought to their knees by the "weak" chinese.

The amout of Prius drivers moving away to EVs is staggering (not). The fourth Prius generationis selling poorly worldwide, its design doesn`t help either, if not for their plug-in version, the Prius sales would have colapsed.

Battery recycling? What are you doing with your team-up with Panasonic for Prius Nimh batteries? Just cover-up to the public? Aren`t you already recicling and holding inhouse know-how?

You just need to keep churning engines on cars aren`t you, after all, the production capacity is already built. That`s why Europe now will get a Camry (as opposed to a brand new Avensis) and the Lexus CT keeps on infinite face-lifts, that, and the 2005 engineered Aygo, way to milk the production capacity...

Repeating lies, doesn`t turn them into truth, move away from it Toyota!

Did you actually read the article?! It clearly states there are opportunities for both technologys (engines and EV's) in the future, which if im not mistaken is what you believe in aswell, so why so mad?!

bol

13 August 2018

This is the same old transparent marketing crap that Toyota has been pumping out ever since it got caught out backing the wrong horse. That it goes utterly unchallenged in the piece doesn’t reflect well. Let’s see if Lexus are pedalling the same line in five years time when Toyota has caught back up with their competitiors in EV development?

13 August 2018

It's hilarious to read all these armchair retards trying to tell the boss of Lexus he's wrong. He's part of the most successful Car company of all time. Anyone that thinks Toyota is behind on EV's is ignorant as hell. They just aren;t putting all their eggs in one basket. Where the hell is the infrastructure in developed markets like Australia, the US and the UK to support mass mobilisation: it  isn't there yet and it won;t be for decades! Let alone developing markets and other 2nd tier countries and nations. It makes perfect business and environmental sense to diversify the power point options.

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Our Verdict

Lexus LC500

Futuristic Lexus LC coupé mixes the latest technology with an old-school atmospheric V8

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week