The relentless pursuit of perfection. A lot of companies like to pretend that they mean it. Six sigma certifications. Cutting edge technologies. All the adjectives and adverbs worthy of a PR press release. But very few of them do. Even those that warrant those words for a time and place fall short when it comes time for their next step.
Sometimes it’s when they try to make the great leap from a niche segment to the mainstream. Apple, Black & Decker, Chrysler… hundreds of companies throughout the 1990’s tried to redefine themselves through expanding their audience. Most came out with worse products through the double edged sword of ‘blanding’ their focus while cost cutting their offerings. Apple clones, B&D plasticized tools, Chrysler’s 2nd gen LH sedans. They all failed. Toyota succeeded with the Lexus LS400. Here’s why.
Rent: They focused on their genuine strengths. The 1st generation Lexus offered a level of precision and quality in craftsmanship that redefined the luxury segment. BMW was more exciting to drive. Mercedes offered more prestige and exceptional steering feel. Infiniti offered a great engine and terrible waterfall commercials. The Lexus LS400 was simply the most enduring Toyota ever made with the ‘best’ of everything when it came to manufacturing assembly and quality control.
It was quality incarnate at a time when Toyota was already two clicks ahead of most of the competition when it came to quality. The highly automated manufacturing plant. The assembly workers who were considered the best among Toyota’s vast empire. The stamping dies that would offer incredible molds that would make the SC400 the gold standard in the luxury coupe segment. The body panel fit requirements and the paint quality standards. There was no compromise and in the beginning, not even a glint of a profit at the $35,000 asking price.
The Lexus LS400 was a rolling tribute to Toyota’s decades long commitment to the Toyota Quality Management System and the Toyota Way. It redefined what a luxury car would be in the 1990’s and not too surprisingly, this 1992 model I bought for $2000 and it turned out to be money very well spent.
Lease: I didn’t rent it. Renters don’t always respect what they’re given. This one was financed to a retired Vietnam Vet who had already bought a couple of vehicles from me in the last couple of years. $700 down, 60 a week for 18 months. This Lexus had 195k on it. But it also had been garage kept and dealer maintained with nary a nick or ding in site. 18 years later it still drove like a rolling testament to Toyota quality. The leather was aromatic. The buttons all worked and the wear was but minimal. I was glad to have given it a good home even though I could have easily financed it for 24 months instead of 18 months. I was investing in the quality of a great customer who always honored his word, and giving him a ‘thank you’ for his own high personal standards.
Sell: Except the new economy ended up doing a number on the guy I financed it to. I won’t get into the personals. But long story short, he just ran out of cash and after a year’s of timely payments, six months of infrequent payments followed. I gave him all the time he asked for and finally he had his family members drive it back to my lot. He asked for me to hold it for 10 days. I gave him two weeks.
The time came and went, and I put it up on Craigslist. It had 230k on the odometer but other than the spinning wheels and mileage reading, everything else was still picture perfect. I put it online for $2995 and received about eight calls in the first 12 hours.
Keep: The hardest thing for me to do sometimes is to say no to someone when they’re already offering good money for the vehicle. But when I see something that has been lovingly kept by the prior owners I try to give it to an enthusiast. Someone who will keep it up in the way it has always been kept and honor their responsibilities as an owner.
I found that guy this time. He came down from North Carolina with another 1st gen Lexus LS400 with 280k Still running strong if a bit more ‘lived in’ than my model. He came by with those vintage pliers that LS400 owners use below the hood struts to keep those hoods upright. He also came with cash and a focus on vehicle inspection that only a true loyalist of a specific model would ever put the energy towards.
The Lexus was expertly analyzed form stem to stern. After a nice conversation about all things LS400 he offered $2500, and though I could have easily negotiated a few hundred more out of the equation, I accepted the offer. It’s better to know that a great car will endure with a loyal driver than to get a few hundred more from someone who will dog it out.
It was a quality experience from beginning to end.