By on January 22, 2018

2018 Lexus LC500 front - Image: Lexus

Okay, that headline’s just a tad disingenuous — Lexus knows exactly how to pick up new customers, and that’s by offering crossovers, crossovers, crossovers. Longer crossovers. Smaller crossovers. More seats and fewer seats.

Still, as much as an ever-expanding roster of utility vehicles can sway buyers to a brand, visibility counts for something. And a starring role in a potential blockbuster film isn’t something any automaker would pass up. Such is the case with Black Panther, a superhero movie for superhero-loving nerds, which Lexus feels is the perfect vehicle for pumping up a little brand recognition.

Lexus, you see, wants to be back on top.

Front and center in the upcoming flick is a Lexus LC 500, a dramatically styled 2+2 sports coupe that retails for over 90 grand. Lexus hopes the added exposure helps return it to the top of the U.S. luxury sales charts.

As someone who never ventures anywhere near superhero movies (I prefer Team America to Captain America), the internets tell me the Marvel Comics-derived Black Panther features a mega-wealthy African king as its main character — making it the first “major” superhero movie with a black actor in the lead role. Sorry, Wesley Snipes. The casting is key for Lexus, as it can’t regain its sales leader status without new blood.

“We are going after a younger customer, and just from a demographic standpoint, the younger you go, the more culturally diverse the population gets,” Cooper Ericksen, Lexus’s vice president of marketing, told Bloomberg at last week at the Detroit auto show. “The task to hit our sales plan really comes from bringing a lot of new customers into the brand.”

2018 Lexus LC500 rear - Image: Lexus

As predominately white Baby Boomers age and retire, the buying power shifts towards a younger demographic containing more blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. New vehicle spending is up among the latter group, down among whites. For automakers, it’s a case of know your market or risk being forgotten.

With a customer base that’s already one-third non-white, Lexus isn’t exactly an unknown brand to any demographic. However, as Ericksen pointed out, its main concern is not race, but age. Through Walton Isaacson, Lexus’ black and Hispanic-targeting marketing agency, the brand sought out a movie tie-in guaranteed to lure in buyers in their 20s and 30s.

There’s always the chance a movie can bomb at the box office, but Marvel Studios productions so far seem like a license to print money.

Black Panther, played by actor Chadwick Boseman, will also make an appearance in a Lexus ad set to air during the Super Bowl — this one featuring the redesigned-for-2018 LS sedan. By purchasing the priciest time slot on TV, Lexus hopes to divert minds away from the ES 350s parked outside legion branches across America. It’s a lot of money, but Nissan’s Star Wars investment (for example) wasn’t exactly a bust. Remember what Twister did for the Dodge Ram?

The last time Lexus held the number one spot among premium brands in the U.S. was 2010. Since then, a surging BMW and Mercedes-Benz have sent it tumbling to third place, and the brand’s sales peak came and went in 2015. Volume for 2017 fell 12.3 percent below that high water mark.

[Image: Lexus]

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42 Comments on “Lexus Pins Sales Hopes on Pricey Model’s Movie Role...”


  • avatar

    “a mega-wealthy African king as its main character — making it the first “major” superhero movie with a black actor in the lead role.”

    I dunno, I saw Coming to America a long time ago.

  • avatar
    stuki

    That crazy grille design language, looks so good and in place on this coupe compared to on the sedans, that I really wish Toyota would take the Avalon and do a longdoor, graceful, cruisemobile personal luxury coupe version of it. Talk about neo-retro-macho.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Well, if it works I hope it gets people leasing RCs and ISs instead of NXs.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I second that.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Why? What if an NX is a better fit for them? The RC needs to go on a diet and of all the permutations of the IS only one is worth a look (IS350F).

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        We need more sedan and coupe sales. Because…more sedan and coupe sales. Seriously.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Who is going to facilitate these sales? People don’t want them. Sitting out of the crossover game will just give market share to competitors. We have to be rational about this.

          Keep in mind we are flush with choice. 20 years ago the only options were the 3, C and A4. 10 years ago there were those along with the G, IS, CTS and I suppose the S60. Now we have all those AND the ATS, G70, Stinger, XE and Giulia. In the luxury midsize RWD sector there have been similar increases in choice. Yet sales are going down. How much more choice do we need?

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Why?”

        Because then Lexus will theoretically build more RWD coupes and sedans. I’m hoping this marketing appeals more to people where notNX is a better fit.

        And what’s wrong with the ‘regular’ IS350?

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Lexus has never been in the business of building cars they can’t sell- hence the (unfortunate IMO) cancellation of the GS.

          It’s not Lexus “fault”, it’s the “fault” of consumers who value practicality over driving dynamics. Shame on them lmao.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I am hoping consumers that value driving dynamics over practicality begin buying more Lexus products.

            That would mean they *are* selling and then Toyota would be able to justify building more of them.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            Well it’s a catch 22. Lexus does have some dynamic offerings, but as the death of the GS shows, there’s only so much appetite for them.

            Truthfully, at this point in the game, I don’t think manufacturers need more than 2 sedans. Lexus could make do with the ES and a GS covering a broader price range. I think their move to the ends rather than a coalescing in the middle was a mistake.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Likely not going to happen.

      Lexus sales have increasingly relied upon their FWD-based CUVs and that will only increase with the RX-L and the CH-R based CUV.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Lexus should change the model name to the Norelco.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Definitely looking forward to “Black Panther.”

    Speaking of black superheroes, I’d love to see Luke Cage on the big screen.

    Another question, though – is the MCU changing makes? The first few movies all featured Acuras, and then at some point they seemed to switch to Audis (as I recall, the Black Panther character had one in “Civil War”).

  • avatar
    nokia7

    Maybe they could start by not making predator-face. Seems their slide began at the same time.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    “Lexus knows exactly how to pick up new customers, and that’s by offering crossovers, crossovers, crossovers. Longer crossovers. Smaller crossovers. More seats and fewer seats.”

    Perhaps off topic but this sentence cues up a Lexus rant perfectly.

    I’m the lucky owner of a pampered 54K-mile 2008 LS460. It’s by far the most comfortable and best-built car I’ve ever owned. It turns pockmarked city streets into a serene glide and eats interstate miles like M&Ms. Four adults each get their own adjustable, heated, cooled cocoon of a seat covered in high-grade leather. There’s not a cheesy or fragile material to be found anywhere in the car. When needed, there’s 380 hp on tap accompanied by a beautiful DOHC V8 noise. Tunes are provided by a Mark Levinson system that was the best stock stereo of the late 2000s. For a driver who’s not terribly concerned with lap times or the last 0.01g of grip, it’s hard to imagine a nicer driving experience.

    But, with two kids in large car seats, the luxo-sedan shape just isn’t all that practical, especially for road trips and family occasions. Despite 200″ in length, we can’t pack much for longer trips. One parent can’t sit in back and talk to the kids (which can be a surprisingly effective way to pass the time). We can’t carry any other relatives with both kids in the car.

    Last year, I Asked Jack whether I should trade the LS460 for a Lincoln MKT EcoBoost to solve these problems. (Reaction was 50/50.) After a test drive of an example that turned up locally after he ran the question, I decided not to. Refinement was the main reason. The MKT is nice enough, but it feels less like the special LS and more like… a pleasant enough rental car.

    And this is a huge blown opportunity for Lexus.

    It has all the pieces it needs to make a roomy family vehicle that feels just as special as the LS. But it’s never done so. Instead we get the RX, which is engineered to a much cheaper standard, and, well, an extended RX with a marginal third row. If we want to spend more, we get two BOF trucks, which have their charms but can’t be expected to be refined like cars. The RX has sold like gangbusters. I have to think that a more expensive, larger, much more refined RWD-based crossover would too.

    And I’d be seriously interested. As it is, my latest thought is to pick up an older used Sienna, spend a few thousand bucks making it mechanically perfect, and keep my LS460. That’s a lot of money left on the table for Lexus, which could probably convince me to shell out for a practical vehicle that’s as nice as my LS to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I think this post should be a featured op-ed.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Well, Lexus does seem to have that new flagship crossover coming.

      But it boggles my mind as to why such vehicles are so slow coming from Asia. It must be an out of sight, out of mind thing. The Escalade, Range Rover and various other vehicles in that class are enjoying healthy sales with a side of growth, while the LS and its ilk remain in freefall. And yet, Genesis? More sedans (G70, Stinger), a forthcoming coupe, no word of a crossover. Infiniti just cancelled the FX, right when it’s ripe for a renewal. Lexus is only *just* considering a flagship crossover (not SUV- big difference).

      As you explain, travelling with a family of 4 or so in comfort, luxury and style (so no minivans) is right where the flagship crossover shines. But for whatever reason- I’m guessing aging management brass- Asia remains fixated on expensive sedans and cheap crossovers, when it should be the other way around.

      When I was shopping for my G37, I test drove a previous gen Genesis 3.8 sedan and came away thoroughly impressed. Aside from the cheap infotainment system, it felt $20K more than its MSRP. My wife was shopping for a crossover at the same time… we landed on an MKX, but had the Genesis been a crossover we would have jumped. Hyundai still doesn’t get it, and by now I’d almost argue it’s too late.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Actually, I believe their automotive worldview is correct and ours is wrong. Another thing to remember is much of Asia’s “middle class” is concentrated in urban areas. I believe by their logic, large 4x4s are probably viewed as pretentious by conservative socialites. The GM U-body van is still sold in China as the GL8, why is that being sold along with Enclave? They are both essentially minivans.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Disagree.

        Hyundai does “get it,” but they aren’t going the way of the Japanese by offering the cheaper FWD CUVs for Genesis (at least not for the 2 larger CUVs Genesis has in development).

        As dal has shown, Genesis can differentiate itself by offering more refinement and power with its CUVs (will see the TTV6 as one of the powerplants in the upcoming GV80, and maybe even the Tau V8) as opposed to going with a “nicer Santa Fe.”

        Speaking of the 3-row Santa Fe, its replacement will be a good bit larger and reportedly will have a more premium interior – which wouldn’t leave much room to differentiate it in Genesis-guise.

        Compared to the RX, MDX or JX/QX60, would rather have the Mazda CX-9 or the Sorento SX-L.

        Both look more premium/classy than the Japanese luxury branded offerings and aside from not having real wood trim (for the Sorento) and a bit more hard plastic at the bottom, the Lexus, etc. are not much better interior-wise (and certainly not for the diff. in price).

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          My point isn’t so much about Genesis bringing out FWD CUVs; it’s about timing. As great as their sedans are, business wise they should have been crossovers out of the gate. Genesis needs 3 crossovers way more than it needs 3 sedans (and a possible coupe). If they are all RWD based that’s fine; I think that’s especially appropriate for a flagship. But they should have been crossovers and not sedans. It’s not like their current sedans are dynamic dynamos that would have lost out from some more ride height.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Dal, Lexus indeed makes a big, roomy, comfortable family vehicle with a V-8 that has unobtainium materials and unimpeachable build quality – the LX.

      And that’s the problem – no one will spend big money on a vehicle like that for a family unless it’s a SUV.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The LX is amazingly well built. But it rides like the mountain-goat truck it is and it doesn’t have a huge amount of room inside thanks to the high floor. Total interior volume is identical to the RX at 140 cu ft. The jump seats that substitute for a third row are barely usable.

        I’m looking for a proper three-row vehicle that prioritizes on-road refinement over off-road capability, like the RX does in its lower-cost FWD universe.

        I’d offer the Benz GLS-class as a counterexample. And I’d look at one of those if they didn’t try so hard to look like G-classes.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          You’re looking for a Lexus minivan.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            If I could have a Sienna with better AWD, more power, and the quiet and interior refinement of my LS460, I’d buy a brand-new one tomorrow. No joke. Then again I don’t care about style nearly as much as most of the buyers in this segment.

            Mercedes nearly made the vehicle I want back in 2007: the R63 AMG. Unfortunately they cost-cut too much and the thing doesn’t waft like an S-Class. The kicker: they sold *double digits* of them in the US.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            R63 AMG!!!

            I wanted one…real bad.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          The new Gator seems pretty nice.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      This seems spot-on. Given Toyota’s early saturation with CUVs, I’m surprised Lexus doesn’t have a Q7 or GLS yet. Doubly surprised given how much of their profits have probably ridden on the RX.

      “One parent can’t sit in back and talk to the kids”

      We tried that once, reading picture books to the kids when they were still in rear-facing seats. This caused motion sickness and there was puke. We didn’t do it again.

  • avatar
    The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

    Great car and marketing plan but… the plan is to bring in new customers, and young ones at that, with a $90,000 MSRP?
    Maybe the target demographic will want to get a LC 500, but the price will make that happen about… almost never.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Lexus has been INCREDIBLY slow with CUVs in general. Audi is on its second gen Q7, Volvo on its second gen XC90, and Lexus has no answer. Lexus’ answer to the X3, now in its THIRD generation, is a warmed over RAV4 that’s only a few years old. It’s so strange. They invented the luxury CUV category 20 years ago, and then basically decided they were done with that one model. The ML320 beat them by a year, but it was BOF. Only Cadillac has been lazier with CUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      For what it’s worth, I feel like they’ve outsold most of the competition with that one entry at a healthy profit margin. If it ain’t broke………..

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