Sometimes, there are perks in this business. Yesterday, I had the biggest perk so far: I saw a $375,000 (base) supercar in the nude. And I could ask the man who built the LFA what he was thinking. He thinks the LFA could change Lexus as we know it.
Haruhiko Tanahashi is the Chief Engineer of the Lexus LFA, the storied supercar, population 500. A Chief Engineer at Toyota and hence at Lexus is much more than an engineer. He is the father of the car, he is responsible for the car from idea to realization and optimization.
A lot has already been written about the LFA. I wanted to know only one thing: Why?
Why build a car that is limited to 500 units, which are beyond the reach of a mere mortal? Will the LFA remain an exotic island, or will its technology filter down into the whole Lexus line?
Yes it will, and it already does, says Tanahashi:
“Sure, there will be direct technology transfers to all Lexus lines. For instance carbon, engine efficiency and more. But the most important cross pollination is not the car itself, it is the thought process behind the car. That thought process could change the philosophy of Lexus 180 degrees.”
Tanahashi gives just one example that is indicative of what may happen to the Lexus brand, should the ideas behind the LFA prove communicable:
“In the past, the engine sound has always been something we were trying to suppress. We were trying to remove all sounds from the car. I was told and I told my people: Sounds are bad, sounds are bad, sounds are bad. Especially the engine sound. We used to want that as quiet as possible.
What is different with the LFA is that you hear the music of the engine, and it has a beautiful sound. People want to hear that sound.
That is one example that you will be seeing – well, hearing – in other Lexus cars in the future.”
When Tanahashi and his team developed the LFA, they worked with Yamaha. Not only with Yamaha, the engine builders. They worked with the musical instrument builders at Yamaha. They turned the LFA into a musical instrument. Not a synthesizer that plays sampled engine sound. They turned the LFA into a veritable wind instrument.
Tanahashi’s Deputy Chief Engineer Chiharu Tamura demonstrates this for me on the most unusual LFA I had ever seen (not that I have seen many): A naked, disrobed LFA. They removed the outer skin of the car so that all that is inside can be seen and touched.
Of course there was another question that needed to be asked, and that is the question of the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap time. Currently, the LFA lap time stands at 7 minutes, 14:64 seconds, which is “very fast” as Tanahashi states, and do I honestly want more?
Then the Chief Engineer kicks in, and Tanahashi feeds me the company line that nobody wants to set a record on the Nordschleife. Driving there is done solely in the name of science and testing, to optimize the ride, to make it handle well, and the 7 minutes, 14:64 seconds are simply a result of this test.
There must be a secret cue card which is used by all manufacturers, because they all say the same: “Record? Us? On the Nürburgring? What record?”
I roll my eyes so fast that I become dizzy.
Then slowly, a smile unfolds in Tanahashi’s face, he leans forward, lowers his voice, and says:
“My test driver Akira Iida says that from his point of view, we can reach 7:12. He thinks it’s possible. Of course, that is strictly his own private opinion.”
Of course it is.