DETROIT: Akio Toyoda’s rousing speech about Toyota’s future

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Lexus has unveiled its new halo sports coupe, the LC 500, at the Detroit Auto Show. If you’re thinking you’ve seen it before, that’s probably because it looks identical to the LF-LC concept that spawned it. This is, amazingly, an actual production car with 5 liters, 8 cylinders and 467 horses behind its toothy maw and will hit dealerships looking exactly like it does here sometime in 2017.

The LC 500, however, wasn’t even the most exciting thing on the Lexus stage at the Detroit Auto Show. That honor goes to a 59-year-old bespectacled Japanese man named Akio Toyoda and his rousing speech about the future of his company.

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Ninety-nine percent of automaker press conferences are total bullshit. A suit comes on stage to talk about how VW plans to achieve record sales, or how “dynamic” the design and handling on the new Hyundai Accent is, or how the next Buick is totally going to appeal to the 18-24 demographic, you guys.

Like with politicians, the cardinal rule is to never, ever admit any mistakes, past or ongoing. You just pretend they never happened and spew out more catchphrases in the hopes of steering the narrative where you’d like it to go.

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Then, every once in a blue moon, an automaker gets real. We saw Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai do this at the Tokyo Motor Show when he unveiled the stunning RX-Vision and committed to the rotary engine.

Toyota is one of the 10 largest corporations in the world, ten times bigger than Mazda, and is fiercely protective of its brand. They rarely let any cracks show, because it’s so easy to argue that they have none. No matter what you think of its products, from Prius to Predator grille, the sales speak for themselves. As a company, Toyota does everything right in that it makes a buttload of money with excellent products.

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The bigger the ship, the harder it is to turn. It’s even harder to turn when there is absolutely no compelling reason to. That’s why CEO Akio Toyoda’s speech was so stirring. In a standing room-only theater with journalists assembled from every media outlet in the world, he gets real about how Lexus has always been perceived as boring, and how as a certified car nut he will be making Toyotas that are fun to drive, again.

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It was shocking to hear a CEO speak so bluntly. When I realized what was happening I whipped out my camera phone to record it, so apologies for the crappy and shaky video quality. It begins mid-way into a joke about how it was Toyoda-san’s first time speaking for Lexus at the Detroit Motor show, that he was told he has an accent, like Sofia Vergara. Then it transitions to the first North American showing of the Lexus LF-FC sedan, which we saw when it debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show and Toyoda-san’s mission statement. Watch the rest below.

Great, right? Toyoda swore he never wanted to see “Lexus” and “boring” in the same sentence again, listened to us, the enthusiasts, and put the the LC 500 into production because of the strong response the LF-LC Concept received. He even showed a photo of himself as a kid, standing next to an S40 Toyota Crown.

In 2009, Toyoda took over from Katsuaki Watanabe, whose goal had been to make Toyota the number one automaker in the world. While Watanabe achieved that, it was at the cost of the company’s exciting cars and a much-publicized quality control issue that led to the sudden acceleration lawsuits. Akio’s father Shoichiro, still an honorary chairman at the company, publicly criticized Watanabe for his mistakes and announced that his son would be taking over the company. Akio, a true car enthusiast, vowed to change course, and has some success with the Lexus LFA, Scion FR-S, and Lexus RC. But again, it’s a big ship.

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As for the LC 500 itself, it’s a bold design. And while in my eyes it’s not as beautiful as the Lexus SC 300/400, it is perhaps the best execution of the spindle grille and swoopy new design language that Lexus insists on using.

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But what do I know. On day two of the Detroit Motor Show the annual Eyes on Design award was handed out, voted on by a panel of the world’s top automotive designers. The Lexus LC 500 won two — Best Interior and Best Production Car.

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When it goes on sale it’ll sticker in the sub-$100,000 range. Its all-new multilink is mostly aluminum and supposedly communicates natural road feel. The V8 is mated to a world’s first 10-speed automatic transmission, but insiders tell us that Lexus has tested a twin-turbo V8 that is rumored to produce 600 horsepower.

As enthusiasts, it’s easy to forget that most of the auto industry is run by leaders who could just as easily be selling coffee makers or TVs to a populace largely uncaring about things like steering feel and handling. We want to imagine CEOs bleeding octane like the rest of us, going to the track and hanging out at cars and coffee. Even if you’ve never owned an AE86 or mango or Celica, it’s hard not to root for Toyoda-san as promises, “This is just the beginning.”

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9 Responses to DETROIT: Akio Toyoda’s rousing speech about Toyota’s future

  1. Ant says:

    Present company acknowledged – generally, most of us here will prefer older vehicles to newer ones – I’d have to say that in my view at least the LC 500 is probably the most attractive car Lexus has ever produced, spindle grille and all.

    While it’s tempting to be defensive about the company and the cars that built it, like the original SC 300 and SC 400 mentioned, they were rather generic designs on the whole. Sometimes it takes divisive designs to build an identity. Japan has had some “challenging” shapes in the past that are now considered true classics – I’d be surprised if we’re not looking back in 25 years on the LC 500 with far greater fondness than we do the SC today.

  2. RdS says:

    A little off-topic, but I *like* the Lexus L-finesse design language. Its confident… consistent inside and out – avoiding too much of the ‘committee-design’ mundane look. It doesn’t matter if I don’t think it looks pretty or tough or whatever.. as I can always appreciate the commitment and uncompromised vision of it all. It’s also absolutely current and will date beautifully.. in the future a great example of late 00’s to early 10’s design.
    Hard not to appreciate the engineering or build quality of the current Lexus’ either.. and the 2UR-GSE and (moreso) the 1LR-GUE are absolutely beautiful on their own..!

  3. RA28 says:

    Yes, I was very impressed by the candidness of the speech

    Full HD link here

  4. William Wallace says:

    Now here’s the question- does this mean we’ll get the S-FR?

  5. steve says:

    “Toyoda swore he never wanted to see “Lexus” and “boring” in the same sentence again…”

    I hope this means offering, even if only for a small percentage of their upper tier cars (MT is still available in their econoboxes), proper 3-pedal manual transmissions. In 2004, I bought a MT IS300 because I could see that it would be the last model from Toyota with an inline 6 and with an MT (in the US, anyway). It was the last I6 model and now, Lexus does not offer manual transmissions in any of its cars.

  6. Sedanlover says:

    Wow! Hopefully it comes down under.

    By the way, does the Detroit Motor Show have a weird feel to it, seeing how the city crumbled after the shutdown of it’s primary income source?

    • ahja says:

      Detroit is a donut. The downtown core and close in neighborhoods are a big shithole that nobody wants to live in, but the metro area is as big and wealthy as it has ever been, and the big 3 US manufacturers are still huge presences there. Idk where you get the idea that they shutdown.

  7. Nigel says:

    This gives me hope…for new cars to get excited about. ( The Toronto Auto show is in a month). I have been to Detroit a few times, there is still some life left there. (Just a bit rough in a few places).

  8. ahja says:

    Can’t wait to get a used one in 15 years or whenever! Also I am an avid Lexus fan, and I think their perceived boringness is an asset. A fast, silent V8 sedan with powerful brakes and a dope interior that almost everybody (including cops) figures might as well be a Camry? Its living and driving the best-of-the-best in virtual anonymity. And a surprising amount of LS400 owners are passionate about their cars and the sheer goodness of them.

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