Magazine article Management Today

More Sussex Than Sahara

Magazine article Management Today

More Sussex Than Sahara

Article excerpt

Visitors to Japan often shriek with alarm when they see the cars the Japanese buy. It is like an automotive Island of Dr Moreau where freakish mutants teem and murky throwbacks thrive. They are a race apart and insist that the local gestation period is 10 months. Clearly, they also have different parameters in market research.

There are cars on sale in Japan that would not survive a Pacific crossing, still less get through customs. Odd shapes, mad colours, weird specifications (four-wheel-drive three-wheelers, that sort of thing). Crazy names: until recently you could buy a Mazda Bongo Wagon. One such was the Toyota Harrier, now selling in Britain as the Lexus RX300.

Lexus is Toyota's successful trophy brand. With lateral ingenuity that is a national characteristic, they did it their way: instead of buying an existing company, as Ford did with Jaguar, Toyota decided to make its own marque. Having, in the course of extruding 20 million or so deadly dull Corollas, learnt everything about production engineering, manufacturing efficiency and zero defects, they decided 12 years ago to productionise the black arts of luxury and prestige. This they did with relentless seriousness.

It is not true that 3,000 PhDs from Nagoya Technical University were employed to fine-tune the exhaust note of the first Lexus, but on the other hand that car did have gold-plated electrical connectors, in the interests of low resistance.

The RX300 is the first Lexus off-roader you can buy in Britain, although it is, in fact, a re-badged Toyota rather than a bespoke creation. This, of course, is amply eloquent of the genteel off-road market's vanities and aspirations, where cachet is more of a USP than ramp angle, unsprung weight or wheel travel. You wouldn't want to take a Lexus to work in an opencast Sumatran copper mine, but it's fine for the A27 between Alfriston and Lewes.

I liked the RX300, although it must have had the salesmen in breathless conniptions, since it further defines and slices an already hyper-atrophied (and possibly mature) market. Toyota is already long on four-wheel drives. There's the rinky-dink RAV-4 for teenagers; the huge Land-Cruiser up in Range Rover territory; site managers can choose the mid-size Colorado; and there are some xtra-tuff pick-ups for mad axemen. …

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