When you put 4,000 miles on a car and are paying attention to the car as you travel—“paying attention to every inch of the car”—you probably know, well before the odo reads 4K, what’s good about the car, what’s OK about the car, and what’s in need of, well, improvement.
When that car happens to be the second-largest-selling vehicle in the brand’s lineup—and has been for the previous five generations of the vehicle, has been essentially since the start of the brand itself—and you are the chief engineer of the car, you are really paying attention to every inch.
When you spend time traveling to homes and dealerships in the U.S. and China, finding out what people think about the car you are charged with engineering anew, knowing full well that there are strong competitors in the segment, knowing that the economic landscape has had a significant change within the past few years, you focus your attention on what matters.
And so Toshio Asahi worked to develop the sixth-generation Lexus ES.
“I didn’t set out just to develop a new ES, but the best ES ever,” he says.
And there is a special resonance regarding Asahi and the ES.
Asahi joined Toyota Motor Corp. in 1991. He received his degree from Ehime University on the island of Shikoku (the smallest of the four major Japanese islands) in electrical engineering. When undergoing train-ing in a Toyota factory (yes, learning about how the things that are designed and engineered are made is considered to be reasonable even for graduate engineers) he saw a second-generation (1992 to ’96) ES 300. And it was then that he decided that one day he wanted to be a chief engineer for a vehicle.
“Sixteen years later,” he says, “I made it.”
So it isn’t surprising that he says the mindset of what he and his team set out to achieve included the concept, “World-class quality is only attainable if you refuse to compromise.”
A word about the word world. As in the “world-class” in that phrase. The word is bandied about by people for products that don’t even have a passport. But in the context of the 2013 ES it is meaningful and it matters. A lot. According to Andrew Kirby, general manager, Lexus Product & Marketing Planning Div., the Nagoya-based organization that is meant to help guide the Lexus brand throughout the major markets in the world by leveraging resources and knowhow, the initial global ES sales should be about 50% in the U.S. and 30% in China. What’s more, the ES is being offered in both left- and right-hand steering configurations, recognizing that there are places in the world where people drive on opposite sides of the white line.
It’s a little thing, perhaps. Something that may not be noticed all that much. Something that is becoming more com-mon not only in upscale vehicles, but is working its way to the middle, as well.
It is stitching on the instrument panel.
Not surprisingly, the ES 350 has it.
But there is something different about it. Those stitches are made by hand. Well, there are sewing machines involved. (Remember that Toyota Motor Corp. had its start within Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, so there is more than a passing familiarity with handling fabrics and sewing machines.) This sewing isn’t done by conventional line workers. Rather, there are 12 specially trained individuals, takumi, in Japanese parlance, who do the sewing of the instrument panel. According to Kevin Pratt of Lexus College, making the cut as a takumi takes more than ordinary manual dexterity. Pratt shows an origami cat’s head. He suggests trying to fold one in 90 seconds. That would be manageable once one knew how to do it. But then he points out that to be a takumi qualified for the sewing task, it is necessary for them to fold the cat’s head one handed—and using their non-dominant hand.
Maybe this is an element of the interior that people won’t notice. (After all, there is an optional HDD navigation system with an eight-inch screen, Lexus Enform system with App Suite (Bing, iHeartRadio, OpenTable . . .), an available 15-speaker 835-Watt Mark Levinson audio system, and other interior amenities.) But this is the sort of thing that makes the ES a little different. A little special. A little less machine-like.
The sheet metal is different. The car is edgier in design than the model it replaces. Its lines—as well as some aero elements, like stabilizing fins on the doorframe covers and rear taillamps that create vortices to pull the air toward the body, underbody covers and airfoil fins—result in a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.27, which is better than the 2012 model, which has a
The new gen is a bit bigger, as well: