Have you noticed a recent ad on TV where a Lexus SUV is sitting on a huge copier? It is being copied and out at the bottom come 3 other brand SUVs, among them a Mercedes.
This is absolutely hilarious! Lexus is the company that introduced replica cars to the world, that elevated the concept of shameless imitation to a new art!
In the 70s groups of Japanese traveled the world, and particularly visited Germany, back then as well as today home to the best cars, most advanced technology, outstanding craftsmanship and original innovations. The visitors were known for their broad smile, extreme politeness and constantly clicking cameras. Soon the purpose of all these photos became clear. A company called Lexus started shipping "luxus" cars that almost looked like an original Mercedes, especially in dim light.
According to unconfirmed rumors, several Lexus designers and whole design teams were fired on the spot when it became clear that you could easily distinguish their designs from a Mercedes. Another joke was that it takes ten people to design a new Lexus - one designer and nine copyright lawyers. The designer would start with the large photo of a Mercedes and modifiy the image ever so slightly while the lawyers were debating heatedly if the changes were enough to fend off copyright suits. We all have seen the results. How many Lexus models looked like last year's Mercedes? By far too many - or was it all of them?
Then, something unheard of happened in the upper management of Lexus - a dramatic, sudden shift in design! Unbelievable, a dramatic break with their tradition of copying Mercedes! About 4 years ago, they decided to drastically revamp their design guidelines! And so it is...now they are "interpreting".....BMW.
And whereever Lexus designers strayed from direct copying they seemed to adhere to the principle of "noncommittal undecisive blandness". Other cars have style and are recognizable by design elements - Cadillac is a great example. Agressive styling, modeled after a pyramid, representing sportiveness, grip to the road and strength. You know a Cadillac when you see one. The same goes for Audi and BMW.
Lexus has no such characteristic styling elements that run through their whole line of cars. No styling elements are recognizable as "pure Lexus". This is not surprising at all, considering their history of "interpretive" designs and their history of avoiding anything edgy, innovative and unusual with a paranoia-like obsession. When a design team is forced to very closely copy for over a decade they most definitely are unable to develop their own visual language.
So, what does it mean that Lexus now tries to pull the wool over people's eyes by pretending that they have innovative designs? And even better, that they would like us to believe that they are in fact the original? What a daring thought! What chuzpah!
Are we going to see more ads like this? Maybe Toyota invented the pickup truck? Are we going to be treated to an ad where the Toyota pickup truck - what was it's name again? - stands on the copier and out comes....the Ford F150? Hey, Al Gore invented the internet! Lexus might as well have invented the SUV and the pick up truck...
People with enough money to buy whatever they want and whatever is best drive - Mercedes. Which head of state, minister, billionaire or multimillionaire has ever been seen driving a Lexus? We are still searching for them. Mercedes on the other hand....There is one in every ultrasuccessful human's garage.
Lexus in Germany? Rare - people know how to compare and they are able to distinguish an original from an interpretation...
Lexus in the US was always the "value option", the choice for all those that wanted to look like they were driving a Mercedes, but that did not want to spend the money to get the real thing. Very much like wearing a replica Rolex watch...
Another, more gentle interpretation comes to us if we compare the growth and development of a car company to the growth of a human being. According to this viewpoint Lexus has now reached young adulthood and behaves like my son, who claims to be independent and completely different from me and has forgotten where he got most of his genes and his education from - his parents. And I leave him be. I simply like his confidence and know that he sooner or later he will realize where he came from.
So will Lexus. After all...one slogans remains true: "Lexus - the relentless pursuit of Mercedes!"