New Delhi: Japanese auto firm Toyota Motor Corp. on Friday announced the launch of its luxury brand Lexus in India with three models—the ES 300h hybrid sedan, the RX Luxury hybrid sports utility vehicle (SUV)and the RX F Sport hybrid SUV—priced between Rs55.27 lakh and Rs1.09 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi). It also showcased the LX450d SUV and fifth-generation Lexus LS sedan but did not reveal their prices. In an interview, Yoshihiro Sawa, president, Lexus International said that he wants the brand to be seen differently from German brands BMW AG, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
What took you so long to come to India?
Lexus is a young brand compared to European brands like Mercedes, which has an over 100-year history. In order to make Lexus competitive, we decided to be different from them.
We started with the Lexus brand in 1998 in the US. In the beginning it was very successful there but not in other nations. So, after we introduced the Lexus brand in Japan, Europe and China, in the first decade, people’s expectations were not so good. Sometimes people said Lexus is a boring brand. It is fantastic but it becomes boring. That was the perception about Lexus.
So, three years ago, we decided to change the Lexus brand in order to become more aggressive. Earlier, we were very focused on the US market. Now, it is time to think about other key markets.
What you are essentially saying is that you have made the brand appealing to younger customers. Do you think you will find enough such buyers in India?
We can’t just start thinking about sales volumes because we have just started with four dealerships. It is very difficult to expect big numbers. So, we will focus on the Lexus brand positioning in India. This is our aim.
The age group that you plan to target prefers an Audi or a BMW…
We don’t follow our competitors even though they are successful. We decided to be unique. Even though in India, many young people appreciate a BMW or an Audi, we don’t fear that because though the percentage may be small, people do love the Lexus. In the US, we enjoy a big share. In Europe, our share is very small. So, Europe is a kingdom for BMW, Audi and Mercedes. In order to survive in India, we have to be very unique.
How would you differentiate yourself?
Most important thing is to be completely different from the Germans, which is visible in our design. Because people first look at the appearance and then they see the interiors. So, they judge on that basis.
Do you think Lexus has brand recall in India?
No, I don’t think so. We have just started.
Jeep has also entered India and there is a recall value associated with the brand. You don’t seem to have that.
You have to understand that our history goes back 20 years while Jeep is more than that. Also, people see a lot of Jeeps in the movies and on websites. We, on the other hand, started lifestyle activities only 3-4 years ago. So, we have to continue doing such activities to build a history.