By on July 11, 2012

 

LFA carbon fiber body

After a general introduction in the first chapter, the last chapter of this inside report showed us  how the body-in-white of the LFA is hand-made layer by layer, and that it is actually a body-in-black. When finished, the body goes on a transfer cart and travels one third of a mile to the second stage of the LFA production, painting and final assembly. We take a bus.

Tanahashi and entourage on their way to the assembly hall

In the bus, we talk about the name of the LFA. There are all kinds of apocryphal stories of how the name came about and what it stands for, that it means “Lexus Future Advance”, or whatever. Tanahashi say it is all nonsense, and as I listen to him talk, I know that I am finally hearing the true story.

Bodysnatcher

“Like all cars, the LFA started as an internal project, code 680,” Tanahashi says. Now you know what the 680 means in Tanahashi’s  diary.

At the Detroit Motor Show 2005, we showed a concept. We needed a name. At Lexus, concept cars for the motor show follow a strict name regime. LF for ‘Lexus future’, then a dash, followed by two letters. I racked my brain for a good two letter combination. I could not find one, and settled on A.”

The concept was shown as  LF-A.  Four years later, Tanahashi gave the name equally short shrift:

“In 2009, we announced the car at the Tokyo motor show, and we needed a real name. Again, I had a hard time. I thought, why not simply remove the hyphen? The LFA was born.”

Many decisions in the car industry happen that way. Rich and deep symbolism often is an after-the-fact addition born from an insatiable quest for meaning.

New meets old

The titanium muffler.

We are back at the LFA’s assembly building. Painting and assembly is a place where Toyota’s past meets Toyota’s future. This was an old press shop before the LFA moved in. The trusses and riveted girders of this 10,000 sqm hall remind more of the Brooklyn Bridge than of a breeding ground for yet to come car architectures. A large overhead crane, now retired, could, if reactivated, travel the full length of the hall. During the LFA’s prototype phase, birds had entered the building and left their signatures on cars and workers. Now, piano wires invite the birds to sit elsewhere.

A quarter of the hall is walled-off to house the LFA’s paint and assembly shop. Most of the LFA’s body, 65 percent to be exact, is made out of carbon fiber reinforced polymer, or CFRP, the remainder is made out of aluminum. Attempting to apply my newfound knowledge, I point at a shiny metal object, and am told that it is a muffler.

Titanium muffler

“It is made from titanium,” says Tanahashi.

The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane ($ 33 million MSRP) was made largely from titanium, the LFA uses the metal for a muffler. Titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metals. Titanium is strong as steel, at approximately half the weight. The only heavy part of titanium is its heavy price: Titanium costs approximately 20 times as much as steel. To replace that muffler – not that you would ever have to, titanium is extremely corrosion resistant – would cost the price of a Corolla, I am told.

When the bonded body-in-black rolls into the assembly hall, it already has fasteners in place to which other parts are mounted. Lighter parts, such as wire harnesses, are attached with fasteners that are bonded to the surface of the CFRP body.

While we are discussing fasteners, Tanahashi brings a cutaway piece of foam-cored carbon fiber. What he shows is testament to the compulsive attention to the minutest detail. In the LFA, through-fasteners don’t simply go through holes that are cut into the shell. They use special aluminum inserts that prevent the carbon fiber from being weakened by the pressure of a lug nut, or the chafing of a thread.

Fender being fitted to the non-monocoque LFA

“Definitely not a monocoque.”

At this point, a discussion ensues. I call the body of the LFA a monocoque, because this is what everybody seems to call it. Tanahashi and Tamura disagree. In a monocoque, the external skin supports the load of an object, I am told. An egg is a monocoque. The hen is not. In the LFA, the car’s structure is delivered by a rigid center cell with attached front and rear subframes. To that, removable body panels are applied, and I watch how they do it.

These panels act like a skin, for internal protection and outward beauty, but not for bearing the LFA’s load. When we discuss the architecture, Chief Engineer Tanahashi declares with deep conviction and utmost finality that this is “definitely not a monocoque.”

Panels being fitted to the non-monocoque LFA

Asked what it is, Tanahashi describes it as a “body-kokkaku” which can loosely be translated as “body frame structure.” After a long discussion, we come to the conclusion that “space frame” probably comes closest, but not close enough for a tough Tanahashi, who thinks it is an old-fashioned term, “suitable for the birdcage of, say, a Maserati Tipo 61.” Once again, the LFA defies definition.

Japanese laquerware.

Painting takes place in another cleanroom. The body panels are first wet-sanded and sealed with a gelcoat. Next comes a middle coat in one of four colors, depending on the final color. Then comes the top coat in the requested color, and finally, a clear coat. The layers are dried at 90 C for 20 minutes. Every coat is inspected under special bright lights.

Check of the paint

The LFA can be had in 30 colors. Strangely, the simplest ones, matte black and whitest white are the most difficult. Matte black cannot be polished and is tricky to handle. The paint specialists are glad that this much talked-about color is in low demand. Only 12 out of 500 LFA have been ordered in matte black.

Still checking

The by far most popular color is whitest white. Its base coat is covered with a layer that shines in blue and white under fluorescent light, on top of that comes an enamel coat that in turn is covered by a clear coat. “Regular” pearl white is the second-most requested color, followed by regular black and red.

Whitest white is highly popular with the paint booth staff also. That color is so complex, “it creates overtime,” says Tanahashi.

It’s a roof side rail garnish. (We asked.)

The Natural.

Assembly of the LFA takes four days, the second half of the supercar’s eight day metamorphosis from space-age twine to blissful bolide. In those four days, the car crawls down a slow, but deliberate assembly line. It is manual work, but it is the manual work of a symphony orchestra. Each grip, each part, each turn of a wrench has its set time and purpose. The orchestra has its sheet music: Placards at every station list what needs to be done when. One can feel the rhythm, even hear the distinct melody of the line.

The coach

The LFA’s 170 piece orchestra of course has its conductor. His name is Shigeru Yamanaka, and he cuts an imposing figure. Before he managed the LFA Works, Yamanaka was the coach of Toyota’s corporate baseball team.

Yamanaka will disappoint you if you are fishing for a story of him selecting only the very best and most highly skilled workers that are run through some astronaut-type selection process.

Instead, Yamanaka surprises us with refreshing honesty.

100% dedication

Asked how he picks his team members, Yamanaka replies: “I request them from Human Resources.”

“I look for passion,” says Yamanaka. “I look for people who want to make special things. Skills I can train. Enthusiasm you are born with.”

Indeed, I see only two types of facial expressions as I walk down the line: Smiling faces. Or deeply concentrated ones. The LFA is made 65 percent from CFRP, 35 percent from aluminum alloy, and 100 percent from dedication.

Assembly hall

PS: With all the innuendo and supposition about the Tiffany blue LFA, how could anyone miss the fact that the original project code was 680, the same number 680 that was on the license plate of the blue LFA?

It’s good they did. “It was one of those coincidences,” I am told.

 Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment of The Making Of The Lexus LFA. How long do you think this car will last?

Monday, July 9: From A Bar To Bar None. How the LFA was born, and why it is made from carbon fiber.
Tuesday, July 10: In The Clean Room. Where the LFA is made from the strongest and most expensive type of carbon fiber available.
Wednesday, July 11: Call Me Names. How the LFA really received its name.
Thursday, July 12: Balance Of Power. We watch the V10 engine go into the LFA.
Friday, July 13: Exam Week. We examine Chief Engineer Tanahashi about how the LFA influences future cars, and what will come after the LFA.

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25 Comments on “The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar. An Inside Report, Chapter 3: Call Me Names...”


  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Thank you for putting all speculation regarding the LFA’s name to rest.

    And for those who endlessly over-analyzed its potential origins, please remember: semiotics means never having to say you’re wrong.

  • avatar
    russty1

    Nice machine. I’ll take one in orange thanks.
    Dread the thought if the LFA were ever in an accident, wonder who in North America would be qualified to do the carbon fiber repairs? And to get the parts? Guess it’d be on the next container ship to Japan for the work? While some parts bolt on, I imagine the cemented parts would be more challenging to replace/fix. I suppose at that $$ level it’s not a worry for the owners!

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      If they are anything like Lamborghini and the Aventador, when the damage is to a critical component they will fly out a specialist to repair “on the spot”.

      Bertel, I would be curious to know if the Motomachi plant carries any inventory of service parts, or if they are only produced as-needed. My guess is the latter.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      The answer is ‘everyone and noone’. Every body shop hack can do fiber glass repair. Just slap a piece of epoxy-soaked fiberglass clothe over the cracked section and bondo over it. Done. Of course- to do it correctly, in a way that retains the original strength, is basically impossible. Once the CF tub is cracked, it’s pretty much history.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Über cool, is that exhaust bi modal? I spot what seems to be a vacuum actuator close to the muffler.

    Does it have a transaxle in the back? I guess those 2 radiators are for that. Might be wrong.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    I like that the car can stand on it’s manufacturer’s naming nomenclature. Fitting for such a technical masterpiece.

  • avatar

    I liked it better with the hyphen.

  • avatar
    orick

    Surprised that the conservative white and black colours are most popular. I would have gone for the orange. Or maybe something a bit more red than that particular orange.

    Wonder how good teh body in black itself would look in person.

    And yes, LF-A looks nicer than LFA.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      White is the historic national racing colour of Japan, so it’s fairly iconic. (Silver for Germany, Green for Britain, blue for France, red for Italy etc.)

      • 0 avatar
        jco

        “As Ben mentioned, white is overwhelmingly the car color of choice in Japan. Why? This is just our own theory, but it’s all about contrast. Tires have to be black. Taillights have to be red. On many modern cars where taillights are not separated by chrome or rubber trim, red paint strips away the defining features of the rear. Traditional Japanese art consists mainly of stark black ink on white paper, with a little dash of red inkan. Those colors must speak to some deeply ingrained cultural wavelength among Japanese drivers, and Japanese cars are designed to just plain look good in white”

        I stole that from JapaneseNostalgicCar.com. I think there additional cultural factors, but think of how many Japanese cars have been limited to black, red, and white. like the original civic si.

        yeah I’ll take mine in white. this is a seriously amazing work of engineering. it’s too bad that there’s been so much made about how it isn’t the fastest supercar out there. to me the speed is beside the point. it’s the quality of the work and what this car represents. I think, like their pioneering work in hybrids, this CFRP in-house stuff will also reward them down the road.

        TTAC really scored here. I’m loving these articles.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        jco – Agreed. As a manufacturing engineer, this is simply brilliant stuff. We do basic machining and assembly of engines and transmissions, but this is the sort of stuff I dream of doing. Very, very cool series.

    • 0 avatar
      Les

      What do you wanna bet that most of the LFAs chosen in conservative, ‘safe’ colors are going to speculators who are gonna shove them in a warehouse upon taking delivery and not let them back out until appreciation kicks-in?

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    “The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane ($ 33 million MSRP) was made largely from titanium, the LFA uses the metal for a muffler.”

    So did the $50,000 2001-2004 Z06.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      So did the McLaren F1 road car.

    • 0 avatar

      So does my $2,000 Litespeed bike.

      To say that titanium is corrosion resistant is an understatement. It will only react with oxygen at temperatures of 2,500 degrees F or higher. Most titanium frame bikes aren’t even painted. People forget that the original and primary purpose of paint is as a protective coating, not a decoration. Titanium doesn’t need that protective coating in most real world conditions.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    I think the LFA’s body structure is best classified as a base unit design, like the Citroen DS, Rover P6, and Pontiac Fiero. While the LFA does use carbon fiber instead of steel it still follows the basic concept of a semi-monocoque interior structure forming a driveable chassis with non structural exterior panels, although it is highly unlikely that the aftermarket will produce any LFA body kits like they did for the Fiero.
    Irregardless, this is an impressive piece of cost no object engineering and great reporting by BS.

  • avatar
    SteveMK2Rio

    Great! Can’t wait to see more!

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    It’s a unibody, like almost every mundanobile currently built. You may have noticed that the steel on the outside of your car is 36 thousandths of an inch thick and has about as much structural integrity as a Coke can. The /glass/ in your car is a more important structural member than the outside panels on a car.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Sorry.
    I`d rather tour the Ferrari plant.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    and hype their product…..


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