PORTLAND, OR – Lexus has not been known for pushing the boundaries of vehicle interiors, but that is beginning to change.
Witness an interesting new trim choice in the forthcoming ’16 Lexus RX, which combines two popular decorative materials, wood and metal, into a single piece.
Yamaha Fine Technologies, supplier of Lexus’ wood trims, uses lasers to reveal aluminum beneath the sapele-wood trim in the next-generation RX CUV on sale in the U.S. in November.
There has been an aluminum layer beneath previous Lexus wood trims, but this is the first time for a U.S. model it is being revealed.
“It is the first time that this laser-etching technology was used in a worldwide model and with (a) rather big production quantity,” Sho Akimoto, a sales manager for Yamaha Fine Technologies, tells WardsAuto in an email.
An LS sedan sold in Japan and offered under the customizable L-Select program had a laser-etched emblem, but Akimoto says Yamaha and Lexus had to refine the laser-etching technology for a higher-volume model.
The RX is Lexus’ best-selling vehicle in the U.S., typically delivering 100,000 units annually.
Kai Fahrbach, new business development manager at Yamaha partner Toyota Tsusho Canada, explained the steps in creating the sapele and aluminum trim during a media drive for the ’16 RX here.
Yamaha begins by pressing together three layers of material, including a 0.2-mm-thick sheet of the sapele to aluminum via a double-sided adhesive layer. Beneath the aluminum layer is another double-sided adhesive layer, then a bottom core veneer.
With the resulting composition, less than a millimeter thick, the sapele is stabilized. Fahrbach notes other suppliers of wood trim with an aluminum sub-layer have experienced delamination, or the peeling of veneer from its substrate.
“One of the biggest issues you can have with real wood is (that) it warps. It’s hot and cold in the car and wood is natural, it’s working,” he says.
The sapele is then bleached of its natural reddish-brown color and stained gray, giving it a uniform appearance in every application throughout the vehicle.
A CNC machine cuts the pieces for the door panel and center console out of the sandwich of layers.
The pieces then are laser-etched, with the laser burning away the sapele to reveal the aluminum beneath.
On the door-panel trim pieces, two narrow bands of aluminum are seen just at the top of the wood trim. The center-console piece is busier, with evenly spaced double-aluminum strips.
After the laser etching, the pieces are pre-formed, or contoured, into shape.
PC ASA plastic with 30% glass fiber content for added strength is back-injected before trim pieces are colored and undercoated.
A protective clearcoat is applied, then the door and console pieces are sanded, polished and milled.
For the clearcoat, Lexus sticks with tradition by specifying a glossy finish for the sapele and aluminum, although Fahrbach notes many luxury automakers today prefer a natural finish, seen on open-pore wood trims in German luxury cars.
“People still like (gloss), because it’s more of the old-style, Rolls-Royce-type (of luxury)…it looks rich,” he says.
With the addition of the African sapele, Lexus now has wood trims from three different continents available in the RX. Other wood choices include an espresso-stained walnut sourced from North America as well as Japanese bamboo and an engineered Japanese wood, Shimamoku.
The sapele is the only RX wood trim with laser-etched aluminum, although Fahrbach says virtually any wood could be used in the process. He notes the laser sometimes will leave singe marks on lighter woods such as birch.
“You see a little black line on the side. Some people like it. It gives it even a little bit more of a difference in color,” he says of the scorch marks that could be considered decorative.
The sapele and aluminum trim will be available on ’16 RXs with the luxury package.
Buyers of the RX with the premium package get a choice between walnut and bamboo, as well as matte dark mocha-stained wood.
A striated black finish is the standard door and center-console trim in the new CUV, while RX F Sport models receive a scored aluminum trim.