Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Lexus "Buick In Training"?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The “Toyota is the new GM” meme is a provocative one. After all, prior to GM’s decades-long unraveling its dominance of the industry put Toyota’s tentative top-dog status to shame. GM’s decline proved once and for all that no make, model or brand can coast on being “number one” alone. Which is why I want to believe that Lexus is shaping up to be the new Buick, as Mark Phelan insists at the Freep.

The first part of Phelan’s argument comes from IHS Global Insight’s Rebecca Lindland, who’s basic premise is that Lexus buyers are old. “Lexus made its name with baby boomers,” she explains to Phelan. “They’re aging, and the average age of Lexus owners is increasing with them. Lexus hasn’t been able to supplement the baby boomers’ loyalty with younger buyers.”

The problem with her argument? Lexus buyers are, on average, a decade younger than median Buick customers. They also tend to be wealthier and better educated than Buick loyalists. But AutoPacific’s Stephanie Brinley points out that there’s another similiarity: people buy Buick and Lexus for the same reasons: quality, reliability, comfort and safety. In short, the things old people look for in cars.

But the stock criticism that brands must attract young buyers to stay relevant falls flat by the time it’s actually trotted out. Luxury brands are always going to target older buyers (thanks to the cruel stereotype that they actually have money) and 56 isn’t a tragic median age (compared to Buicks 66). And when it comes time to twist the knife, Phelan’s female brand assassins run out of steam.

“Part of the problem is that Lexus doesn’t have a good entry crossover SUV like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5,” Lindland said. The RX 350 — Lexus’ best-selling vehicle by a wide margin — is about the same size as those vehicles, “but it’s seen as a mom-mobile, darned near a minivan,” she said. “You expect it to be driven by a woman with children.”

By definition, “a woman with children” should be at the heart of a mainstream luxury brand. Buick’s problem is that if children set foot in a Buick they’re grandchildren at best. Lexus’s brand engineering has never been as egregious as the bad old GM’s, and though it could be 20 to 30 years from Buick-esque generational decline it will bring in a grip of cash between now and then.

Meanwhile, the article’s prescriptive touchstones- style, excitement, youth- are exactly what Buick is currently gunning for… as it chases Lexus. Of course, if Buick gets its average buyer age down to 56 the Freep’s writers will no doubt crown it a success. Meanwhile, Lexus will have to fall out of favor faster than Hootie And The Blowfish before the phrase “the Lexus of blank” goes the way of “the Cadillac of blank.” The way I see it, the real question is will Buick ever have a chance at becoming the new Lexus.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Rada Rada on Sep 01, 2009

    Oh gosh... A note to Toyota - ignore the envious naysayers, and keep building quality cars with technical excellence. I didn't know the IS "does not sell well". Here you can't make a U-turn without hitting at least four of them. As for for "Toyota is the new GM" - it is a lame forced meme, probably originated by Ford. There is absolutely nothing common between how Toyota does business and how GM did/does.

  • Dick Dick on Sep 01, 2009

    Are you guys sleeping with the AOL Autoblog idiots, cause they just wrote this same post. Me? I'd sue if I had to sleep with a Liberal.

  • Lorenzo It's an election year, and Biden will drag down enough democrats without the state going deeper in the budget hole than it is now. Newsom isn't the smartest guy, but he has smart guys to tell him the state is running out of other people's money.
  • MaintenanceCosts The symbol is the standard international sign for "controlled access highway." Presumably they are trying to evoke the Autobahn.
  • MaintenanceCosts Absolutely. Most old classics are not Boss 429s or Busso Alfas. Most of them have powertrains that are just crap by modern standards. I'd love to have a classic without the pre-emissions stinky exhaust or the need to futz around constantly with points and jets to maintain drivability.
  • Ravenuer No, I wouldn't be interested in doing this at all. Seems like it would be quite expensive.
  • Tassos Why buy either when you have two matching 2007 diesel e-classes with combined over 950k km. NO ONE SHOULD WANT MORE THAN I HAVE SETTLED FOR.