By on July 13, 2012

On the LFA’s in-house test track. Each car gets tested for some 50 miles

In this week-long report, we followed the Lexus LFA from raw fiber to bodypaint, and assembly. In this final chapter, we take it on the test track in Motomachi. 

Each and every LFA that rolls off the line is checked like no other car. 7,000 items of the LFA, all previously checked, counter-signed, eternalized in evidence sheets, are checked again. Each check again is eternalized in evidence sheets. When I said it takes 8 days to make an LFA, I lied. It takes 8 days to make one, and then it takes a full additional week to check it.

LFA test driver Nobuaki Amano

Nobuaki Amano has “one of the coolest jobs in the world,” at least according to Lexus-internal propaganda. Amano is the test driver. No LFA leaves the LFA Works without Amano having driven it up and down and up and down the test track that is nestled into an approximately mile long stretch along the eastern fence line of Motomachi. That track is good for 130 mph, if we want faster, we would have to go to Toyota’s Higashi Fuji proving grounds.

This is work?

I was in an LFA a year ago, that was in city traffic in Yokohama, hardly the place to put it through its paces.  Going up and down along that two lane track is different. I hear the engine sing all the way into the soprano octaves while Amano paddle-shifts through the LFA’s sequential gears. Some likened the sound to “the roar of an angel”, some to “an F1-inspired tune.” Lesser poets could compare it to the sound of a circular saw.

25 times up, 25 times down the road

I leave Amano to his testing business. He travels 25 times up and 25 times down that fence line in each LFA, conducting a set test regimen of 54 items, and taking copious notes over 4 hours. The logs become part of the evidence sheet collection.

These tires will be used to avoid wear and tear of the customer’s rubbers

Before Amano takes the car out on a test run, it gets a set of tires that is reserved for that purpose, sparing the customer wear, tear and cuffs. The odometer will have Amano’s 50 or so miles on it. They come with a note explaining that this is part of the Lexus LFA build process.

Much prettier visitors have been here

Miss Universe.

It is late in the afternoon when we get back to the spartan meeting room in the LFA Works. We spent a full day trying to cover the two weeks it takes to build and test an LFA. In a corner is a cut out figure of Akio Toyoda in racing gear, the figure even shorter than the real life Toyoda. On the wall is a memento from a previous and much prettier visitor to the LFA Works, Miss Universe 2007, Riyo Mori, her autograph is obscured by a less romantic sample of a forged aluminum gas pedal and a magnesium paddle shifter.

Take a number

In the morning, we saw LFA number 369 in its early stages, two weeks more, and it will be on its way to its owner. By the end of the year, the limit of 500 LFA will be reached, and the limit will not be extended. All are spoken for, try to order one now, and you will be turned down, with many apologies, but nonetheless firmly. As a matter of fact, the LFA was sold before production started in late 2010. The 500-unit quota was reached in April 2010, those who wanted could try their luck on a waiting list. For two years, the people at the LFA Kobo worked through their order book, one car per day.

Tanahashi shows his diary

I only have two more questions for Tanahashi:

Why?

And what’s next?

Reason why.

Even before the LFA production had started, Toyota made it known that there would be no profit on the LFA. Know just a little about cars, and this will be immediately obvious. The price tag for the development of a regular car is said to be in the neighborhood of a billion dollars. Now imagine how much it costs to develop one that was 10 years in the making, that shares only five parts with other cars of the mothership, a car for which a completely new production technology had to be invented. My walk through the factory sealed my impression of a giant money sink. The 500 people who are lucky to get an LFA are even luckier: They get a deal. The true cost of that handmade carbon fiber car is astronomically higher. So why make it?

I put the question to Tanahashi. He won’t comment on specific plans, but in a roundabout way, he confirms that this is a test bed for how mass market cars in a still far away future might be built. Future cars must use much less of whatever energy they will use. The key to that is weight loss.

Tanahashi’s comrade-in-arms, deputy chief engineer Chiharu Tamura (they met right out of school at Toyota, working on the front and rear end of the first front drive Celica) has a 1968 Subaru 360 at home. This car reached 66 mpg in 1968. Ever since, efficiency improvements bought with billions of research money were eaten by a ravenous monster called weight. 44 years later, the Prius c developed by Tanahashi’s colleague Satoshi Ogiso gets 53 mpg. Is that progress?

Picture-perfect

When I met Tanahashi in the morning, he said that “the ideal material for a car body is very strong and very light.” Carbon fiber is that material, but it is far from affordable. As long as people put strips of fabric into a mold by hand, as long as a part must be baked for hours, the price of this material will remain in the stratosphere. Tanahashi and his people are working on bringing this price down to earth.

Get moving.

“Pre-preg is much too slow,” says Tanahashi, referring to the method of manually putting strips of resin-saturated carbon fabric into molds, and baking it in an autoclave. “In the years to come, Resin Transfer Molding will be the mainstay of carbon fiber making.”

RTM, the making of carbon fiber in a press, cuts the time of making a part in half. Right now, this half still is 8 hours instead of 16 hours, unacceptable for production runs of several thousand per day. “With cutting-edge technology, the time can be brought down to 10-15 minutes in the press,” says Tanahashi. Much better, but still much too slow. A stamp press cycle time for metal is about six seconds, that’s ten parts per minute, not four per hour.

“I am very confident, that with some more research, CFRP will be ready for volume production,” says Tanahashi. “How quickly and when, I am not sure. We are moving in that direction and we are making progress.” The team around Tanahashi will remain busy for a long time.

Life after the LFA

Speaking of keeping busy, I ask what will come after the LFA.

Tanahashi facetiously says, “the LFB.”

When confronted with the rumor that the next car will be a million dollar supercar that is made in the homeopathic quantity of 100, Tanahashi wipes it off the table: “No, not true at all.”

So will the next car be a high-end CFRP Lexus under $100,000 at maybe 5,000 units a year? Tanahashi pauses, thinks for a few seconds, reviews where he and his team are on that road to the future, then says:

“It’s not that simple.”

What will happen to the LFA Works at the end of the year? Will Tanahashi, now 59, simply go into retirement? Will the 170 associates who make the LFA go back to making Crowns, Corollas and Camrys?

Tanahashi collects his thoughts, then says:

“CFRP is a very promising material. Even after the LFA project finishes, the carbon factory will be well utilized.”

With that thought, we bid Tanahashi and his team adieu. I am sure we will meet again. Somewhere.

Jyane!

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.

Domo arigato gozaimashita

Thetruthaboutcars.com thanks all who have made this possible. We thank chief engineers Haruhiko Tanahashi and Chiharu Tamura, who, half a year ago, recklessly invited me to visit them where they work.

We thank the public affairs people in Tokyo, who, after having recovered from their heart attack, tirelessly supported the project. We thank Paul Nolasco who translated a pile of pages with dense technical Japanese content into a pile of pages with equally dense English content. We thank the anonymous man who volunteered his size 11 ½ toecaps. We thank you for reading and commenting.

Thetruthaboutcars.com extends an invitation to all automakers to make more Behind the Scenes reports possible.

 

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30 Comments on “The Making Of The Lexus LFA Supercar: An Inside Report, Chapter 5: Exam Week....”


  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Yay, thanks for the full photograph at the end. And thank you for the in-depth look at the LFA’s assembly and testing plant.

    And to reiterate: please, manufacturers, provide more opportunities to reveal these fascinating looks into your skunkworks; it can only serve to bolster your image and improve the public’s perception of your work.

    Though I don’t intend to purchase an automobile with the levels of testing and certification exhibited by the LFA, I do take pride in a target rifle purchase made many years ago featuring a similar end of assembly test procedure. There, in the packing box, was a hand signed and stamped certificate affirming the accuracy of the product, complete with a lovely 1/2″ group shot off-hand at a distance of 25 meters. I rarely approach that rifle’s level of accuracy myself, but it’s nice to know it’s due to my limitations and not those of the product.

  • avatar
    espressoBMW

    Most excellent series! Thank you.

  • avatar
    SteveMK2Rio

    So. Effing. Cool.

    What an awesome report, I love these – especially when you get honest indepth talks with the people actually involved with the cars. Great stuff.

    Keep up the Toyota coverage!

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Sorry guys, you have just built a really fast 1990 Nissan 300ZX ..ho hum.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Hi Ron B. —-

      I must respectfully disagree with you. Other than four wheels, there is virtually nothing significant in common between the 370Z and the LFA. It’s like saying that the Earth is just a souped-up version of the Moon.
      These two vehicles differ in design, construction philosophy, Nurburgring performance*, refinement, materials, engine type and placement, weight distribution, horsepower, technology, manufacturing methods, sound, and so on. You might as well say that a Ferrari 458 Italia is just a really fast VW UP!

      * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nürburgring_Nordschleife_lap_times

      ————-

  • avatar
    felix

    Hey Bertel! We wanna see Ms. Riyo’s torque band diagram!

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i have no great love of the LFA

    its a $375k toy for the paris hiltons of the world

    the GTRs and 86s of the world are more interesting to me

    HOWEVER, i like how the factory seems to reek sincerity and humility… its the Japanese way

    the older Asian gents with the PhDs and the mass supermarket trousers and shirts and sneakers… you know these guys are the real deal… these are not glamourous people and that’s wonderful

    • 0 avatar
      daiheadjai

      The Paris Hiltons of the world would write off the LFA as Japanese, and thus not worthy of their time.

      As a humble lower-middle income wage-earner, I would be thrilled with the prospect of the technologies from the LFA finding their way to a ride which I can afford – which appears to be the end-goal.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        you don’t know that Paris is the most famous owner of the LFA?

        really?

        http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1063289_paris-hilton-gets-lexus-lfa-from-boyfriend-later-breaks-up-and-swaps-color

        i thought it was common knowledge.

  • avatar
    Oelmotor

    Thank you TTAC and Toyota.

  • avatar
    lon888

    I must admit I didn’t really have an opinion on the LFA until I started reading this series of articles. They were great and really shows how the Japanese sweat the small stuff and I mean to the most miniscule of things. Keep up the good work Lexus and TTAC!

  • avatar

    Epic. Great series. Total classic.

    LOLd at LFB.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Great reporting, indeed.

    The comment from TonyJZX is spot on.
    These engineers and workers are creating something superlative and unique, yet one does not see the fastidiouness and arrogance one would see in -i.e. a Bugatti factory.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Thanks again for this tremendous inside report, and I share your wish that other automakers open up their factory doors to show you – and by extension us – the who, what, when, why, and how.

    A portal to this series definitely deserves a place up at the top featured story bar.

  • avatar
    DaeGoesFast

    This was truly a great series. I learned much about the many ways to produce carbon fiber parts, and ultimately I’ve gained much more respect for Toyota as I now realize the astronomical effort that went into the LFA, as well as the heart and faith that kept the project going. For a colossal corporation to knowingly see this through a negative result financially, year after year, well there is just no precedence that I’m aware of. Needless to say I’m amazed with LFA on so many levels.

    I do see the possibility of marketing benefits for the rest of the Toyota fleet though. Who else would by a limited edition Scion FRS with carbon fiber hood, roof, and hatch coming straight out of the LFA Works?

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Awesome series Bertel.

    Manufacturers-if you are proud of your products you have nothing to fear and something to gain. Let TTAC into your factories!

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Thanks Bertel, original content is king!

    As I pointed out yesterday, now that the F-1 engine specs are frozen in time for long periods of time (by F-1 standards), there really isn’t a top level creative outlet for engineers like this anymore, hence the LFA project. Engineers are like kids, the learn through playing around. I know of 99 out of 100 bosses who would frown upon letting resources ‘go to waste’ like this, but I’ll bet 100/100 would say that they want to be innovation driven companies. It takes courage to do something like this, but I’ll bet it helps to have lots of cash on hand.

    Think of it as Honda’s after hours F-1 project… amped up big time. (When Honda left F-1 in the 90′s, their engineers kept working on an in-house v-12 car after hours just for kicks)

  • avatar
    akitadog

    I think the next Inside Report needs to be the Bugatti Veyron.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Thanks Bertel for an excellent series which opened a lot of intellectual doors. Thank you Toyota for granting this kind of access to both facilities and staff.

    I loved Tanahashi-san’s “LFB” response, and can’t wait to see what comes next. It may be more complicated than 5,000 cars at $100k, but perhaps the upcoming LS reveal on July 30 will offer some pointers. It would make a lot of sense to take the LFA’s lessons and bring them into that area, as it would be a tremendous competitive advantage over the best efforts of the German brands.

  • avatar
    minneapolis_lakers

    Herr Schmitt is simply the best in the business, bar none.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Really excellent series, Bertel. Thank you! And thanks to the folks at Toyota/Lexus who let you in to do the story and talk to the people who make it (that story and the car).

    They should feel that their confidence in you has been fully justified.

    As an American, however, I find this series kind of depressing. It’s hard for me to imagine any of the North American manufacturers having this kind of culture. I dunno; maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am.

    So, c’mon “imported from Detroit” show us what you got!

    • 0 avatar
      sudden1

      DC,
      I really appreciate your sentiments. Culture? Let’s kick it up to where it belongs. Ford. GT-40. Le Mans overall winner 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969. Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby, et al. World stage; Best in the World. Never to be repeated. Ford GT. We, as a nation, won. But we can again any time we want.(Still looking at you, GM…)I, too, want for something now, but at least we have a legacy.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    Very excellent series. I hope we can see more similar articles like this in the future, about any car, really!

  • avatar
    quiksilver180

    Fantastic 5 chapter review. I am fascinated by this car, but also the manufacturing of super cars all together.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    can we please move on to something else NOW!

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    Hmm…an LFB that’s basically a 2016 Supra would actually be pretty interesting.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Great series of articles. Nice one.

  • avatar
    BlackDynamiteOnline

    Driving an LFA comes down to one word: Special
    BD


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