Lexus RX Grille Faces Risks

The vice president of Toyota’s luxury brand in the U.S. tells why a “polarizing” grille can draw in new customers.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

April 3, 2015

3 Min Read
Spindle grille on Lexus RX F Sport
Spindle grille on Lexus RX F Sport.

NEW YORK – Seventeen years ago, Lexus was first to introduce a luxury cross/utility vehicle, the midsize RX, and it has kept the lead amid growing competition.

The RX holds 25% of market share in a segment that now includes 16 competing models. To try to stay ahead, Toyota’s luxury brand introduces an expressive ’16 RX at the New York International Auto Show.

“We know the (segment) is extremely competitive, and that’s why, for the fourth-generation, RX has been completely reimagined,” says Jeff Bracken, vice president and general manager of Lexus in the U.S.

The brand delivers about 100,000 RXs a year in the U.S. That’s one out of three vehicles Lexus sells. Bracken says the new model is expected to do as well, or better, when it goes on sale in the fourth quarter.

It features a chiseled body design and a lowered roof line that visually stretches the vehicle. Then there’s that controversial Lexus spindle grille. It pinches in near the top, and flares out at the top and more so at the bottom. Bracken acknowledges it’s “polarizing.” Some people like it, some don’t. It’s particularly pronounced on the RX F Sport. 

Lexus introduced the grille a few years ago, heralding it as a part of an edgy new look. Before then, some people panned the brand for staid designs.

The automaker has tried to shake that rap, as evidenced by the RX that takes the stage in New York.

It doesn’t come without risks, as Bracken tells WardsAuto in a Q&A at the show.

WardsAuto: What are the risks?

Bracken: From a design standpoint, the spindle grille, especially on the F Sport over here, is very expressive. Some of our owners absolutely love it. Others say, “You’ve become more aggressive.” It is a bit of a dynamic that goes on in the marketplace, but we are OK with that, because we want to stretch ourselves, our engineers, our designers and the marketplace.

WardsAuto: You talked about appealing to new buyers and existing owners. What are the dynamics of managing both and appealing to both?

Bracken: RX represents our most loyal owner base. So we wanted to make sure we didn’t alienate our loyal owners with this new design. At the same time, we want to build on that owner base and bring in folks that might not have considered us in the past. Based on our focus group research, we’ve been able to do that.

WardsAuto: What might you have done to alienate?

Bracken: Well, for example, the spindle grille, right? Some folks feel it is too expressive. On the other hand, a lot of people are looking at Lexus because of that aggressive spindle grille. They might not have looked at us before.

WardsAuto: Was there anything Lexus had considered, but ended up saying, “No, we can’t do that because it’s too risky?"

Bracken: I guess I would answer the question this way. We’re always trying to push ourselves. We’re always trying to make sure we wow ourselves and our customers with whatever the features or designs or driving dynamics might be. We try not to handcuff ourselves.

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