Could you be driving this car in the future?
Recently Esquire were treated to a trip along the French riviera to Nice, where a little way out the city in a slick design centre called ED2, the pioneering minds of Lexus are burying their heads to create the car of tomorrow. Now, while 99% of concept vehicles will stay as just that, concepts, designers dream of their creation rising above the paraphet of the hypothetical to actually see the light of day. It has happened before, and naturally will continue to happen.
One such vehicle with a very good chance is the Lexus LF-SA. Here, Lance Scott, the GM of the Design Department of the Toyota Europe Design Development, France and LF-SA designer Laurent Bouzige tell us about this latest project, and why seeing it on the roads in the next few years may not be such a far-off possibility…
When you think about car design, how much of it is design focused? Is it more function, numbers, speed or aesthetics?
Lance: Function is important. We obviously don’t want to do something which is completely unfeasible; it has to make sense from a design point of view. This project, we wanted to make a big statement. The direction Lexus was going in with design – there were two main phrases. The first was Lexus distilled; taking the essence of Lexus and making it into something concentrated. Second was the aspect of non conformity. Lexus is different; maybe we made the only car with this type of styling. We don’t have the constraints that some German manufacturers have in terms of designs; we can be a bit more bold and audacious. In doing that we wanted to push the boundaries of the Lexus design philosophy.
How much inspiration is drawn from old car models and how much is brand new?
Lance: It’s completely from scratch. We started with a blank sheet of paper, even now there’s not really a platform, we created the size, the width, how compact it was, the overall ambiance – all originally for this product, to make the biggest impact.
What was your thinking behind the Lexus LF-SA?
Laurent: First we tried we tried to tap into some young customers and ladies – this was our first target. The design stands out; it’s a little bit complex but with some simplicity. So that’s why we chose grey, neutral colours. But if you look close you see a sparkle inside… metallic flakes a bit like Chanel! It’s kind of precious. In the shadow it looks like a solid colour, which emphasises the shape, but in the light you can see the stars. A little bit feminine.
How many many people were involved in the design process?
Laurent: Around four designers, I was the manager; we have one for exteriors, two for interiors. We had also a few designers for electronics and seat designers also. You will see the interior is complex. The LF-SA is a design philosophy for Lexus involving simplicity. To crystallise this concept into a form, a new way of interpreting the philosophy is what we tried to do. A new way of craftsmanship, a fusion of modern matter like 3D printing and mixed with things like nice leather or wood. Also the light and atmosphere was important, some ambiance that is tailored to the driver and passenger. The architecture is important to us, and it’s focused to the drive. The driver’s seat is fixed with all the commands for the driver. The touch of things, even the smell.
In terms of the concept car being brought into production, do you start with a blank canvas? Are there certain criteria you have to abide by?
Laurent: For this one particularly we have experimental projects advanced and then competition ones. With experimental projects we start with a blank piece of paper. We have some ideas about the size, as you know we stopped the IQ model production, as a European it’s a shame as it’s a great car for the city. The size, the look -it was premium, you can see it in Paris, Milan, Florence. They stopped the production so we imagined a kind of IQ with… excess! A little bit bigger, four seats but in a condensed package. It’s 3.4m, a bit wider. An older design but a new platform. It’s more of a study.
The first initial look at the LF-SA model unveiled to Esquire at the Lexus Design Awards in Milan in April
How involved will you be in the final process and the production of the actual car? Should it go that far of course…
Laurent: If we continue this car then yes, we will follow the process to the end. We have a studio for production, it deals with minor changes and things. But for a full production car, we just don’t have the man power at this moment.
With these concept cars, how many actually go into production, and how different will the final model be from the concept model?
Lance: We have to innovate, to make something new when making concept cars. The design is the first thought, the feasibility is thought about later. We wouldn’t have an engine to work in half the cars that are made as concepts. Then, is it a good car for the market, what would the price be – real world challenges. We cater to desire that’s why people desire concept cars. Products on the other hand are a balance between desirability, feasibility, practicality and usability. It’s a balance.
Laurent: We need to interact with engineers and things to see what is possible and what we need to change, the sizing of the wheels with a small car and things like that. To use an example…the NX concept and the production model are very close; so Lexus has the power to build something really close to the concepts.
So, hypothetically, how far down the line will something like this be able to be created?
Lance: Concept cars are made to test boundaries, to push the extremes. 95% of cars are still made from steel, aluminium is increasing and carbon fibre is rare. What you can do with steel is not as exciting as carbon fibre. At the moment the technology is still catching up. This is sometimes why concept cars when they come into production, while still keeping the essence, can be compromised.
Laurent: If you want a date, about 4, 5 years? When we design a car, we say we design a car for the future, but in fact we design for now! The future is now. This is just to capture what we call signals, like this may be a major trend in the next few years. A production cycle is about three or four years.
What was your favourite part of the design experience on this particular LF-SA model?
Laurent: Embarking on new territory. I think what’s really new here is the proportions of the car. It’s not an SUV, it’s kind of a crossover, it’s a high rider with a European look. It’s small but there’s a lot of space inside. We’re really trying to develop kind of new surface, also some details, that were quite polarized by the press which was interesting for us – we don’t mind that, it’s a target, designed for Lexus customers, we don’t want to please everyone.
Where do you get your design inspiration?
Laurent: We try first to look for new signals and behaviour; we start from the customers to create an experience for them. This year, the focus with Lexus was experience through all five senses. So, in that sense, everything is a source of inspiration.