Lexus Pins Sales Hopes on Pricey Model's Movie Role

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
lexus pins sales hopes on pricey models movie role

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.”

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]

Join the conversation
3 of 42 comments
  • 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.

  • Davekaybsc Davekaybsc on Jan 22, 2018

    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.

    • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Jan 23, 2018

      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...........

  • SCE to AUX Toyota the follower, as usual. It will be 5 years before such a vehicle is available.I can't think of anything innovative from them since the Gen 1 Prius. Even their mythical solid state battery remains vaporware.They look like pre-2009 General Motors. They could fall hard.
  • Chris P Bacon I've always liked the looks of the Clubman, especially the original model. But like a few others here, I've had the Countryman as a rental, and for the price point, I couldn't see spending my own money on one. Maybe with a stick it would be a little more fun, but that 3 cylinder engine just couldn't provide the kick I expected.
  • EBFlex Recall number 13 for the 2020 Explorer and the 2020 MKExplorer.
  • CEastwood Every time something like this is mentioned it almost never happens because the auto maker is afraid of it taking sales away from an existing model - the Tacoma in this instance . It's why VW never brought the Scirrocco and Polo stateside fearful of losing Golf sales .
  • Bca65698966 V6 Accord owner here. The VTEC crossover is definitely a thing, especially after I got a performance tune for the car. The loss of VTEC will probably result in a slower vehicle overall for one reason: power under the curve. While the peak horsepower may remain the same, the amount of horsepower and torque up to that peak may be less overall. The beauty of variable cam lift is not only the ability to gain more power at upper rpm’s on the “big cam”, but the ability to gain torque down low on the “small cam”. Low rpm torque gets the vehicle moving and then big horsepower at upper rpm’s gains speed. Having only one cam profile is now introducing a compromise versus the VTEC setup. I guess it’s possible that with direct injection they are able to keep the low rpm torque there (I’ve read that DI helps with low rpm torque) but I’m skeptical it will match a well tuned variable lift setup.