DRIVING FORCE

A chief engineer explains his thinking behind the new 2013 Lexus ES—and why you shouldn’t be surprised when he knocks on your door.

Don’t be surprised if Toshio Asahi shows up at your house one day.

Mr. Asahi, besides being the talented chief engineer behind the new 2013 ES, is a big fan of hands-on research—so much so that, before the latest ES was conceived, he spent time visiting Lexus ES drivers in their homes, just to find out what they wanted differently from an updated model.

Mr. Asahi’s personal approach is intriguing, which got us thinking about what else went on behind the scenes during the vehicle’s development. True to form, Mr. Asahi was happy to talk.

Lexus: So tell us more about your Lexus-driver research.
There were two focus points for me. One was to discover not just what ES buyers wanted, but what they were like. I wanted to understand them, such as their family, living environment, hobbies, shopping styles, and how they use their cars. To achieve this, I visited people’s homes as much as possible to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of their lifestyles, family makeup, and their values. In this way, I could get a much clearer picture of their needs.

2013 Lexus ES

So what did Lexus drivers say when you asked them about changing the ES?
Many North American customers showed an interest in a sportier look, while customers in some other markets were more attracted to a solid, stately presence. Many customers indicated a desire for more rear-cabin legroom, which implies a larger vehicle size. In the end I think we found ways to satisfy nearly all these demands.

Those sound like seemingly contradictory missions—make things larger but increase the performance. How did you solve it?
In concrete terms, we extended the wheelbase to allow for a longer cabin, but shortened the front and rear overhangs so there was only a minor increase in total vehicle size. This enabled us to provide more space in the cabin, while maintaining comfort. We wanted a feeling of “snug roominess.” We also lowered the body, which gives us better aerodynamic performance, and, with the wheels set farther out, contributes to the wide and low stance that gives the new ES a sportier appearance

Were there many changes in design over the course of the 2013 ES development?
The whole design process took around three years. But after we came up with the original design we didn’t waver at all. The side silhouette is basically the same as our original design sketches. This certainly stands out in my memory.

Were there any points of discussion—any aspects of the vehicle’s design that the team weighed back and forth?
The angle of the headlamps was a subject of much debate. I felt that a sharper angle was too aggressive and stood out too much, so I recommended lowering it a little. This gives us, I feel, the best balance between the grille and bumper. I’m happy to say that, when the design was approved, the designers sent me an acrylic, crystallized model of the car as a token of their appreciation.

2013 ES Upholstery Craftsmanship (Photo by Raymond Patrick)

Interior lighting is clearly important in all Lexus models. How does this element influence the ambience of the new ES?
I felt that all the interior features looked great in the daytime, but I wanted to make certain that the new ES was cool and elegant at night. Working with designers and engineers, we created an ambient lighting experience using coordinated LED white lights. These produce contrasts among the vehicle’s interior elements and help provide a feeling of luxury.

You’re personally invested in the safety features.
Yes, this is actually a special interest of mine. Before I began working on vehicle development I worked in the Electronics Engineering Division, so I was interested in seeing some of our advanced safety features debut in the ES. This new ES is the first Lexus model to offer the Blind Spot Monitor (BSM)[1] with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), an advanced safety feature. I was pleased that we could also make available the Lane Departure Alert (LDA), which shares a camera with the Auto High Beam (AHB) system. That was a great innovation, because separate cameras are usually required.

2013 Lexus ES Taillamp

It was a big decision for Lexus to introduce a hybrid ES. What was your personal thinking there?
After considering demand and environment changes five or 10 years from now, I was certain that there would be a need for a hybrid ES. We called for cross-department cooperation to help make it happen. And while this was partly based on a personal conviction that a hybrid model was necessary, it was also backed up by strong demand witnessed in worldwide customer interviews.

The ES has some new aerodynamic features, new shock absorbers, and a revised suspension system. What does this all mean for the vehicle’s handling?
Significant all-around enhancements, basically. For example, enhanced aerodynamic performance increases the evenness of the ride and helps provide excellent road feel for comfort and security, particularly on the highway. Additionally, aero stabilizing fins have been added on the doorframe covers and on the rear lamps. These fins create air vortices at the sides of the body that help stabilize the vehicle. Improvements in shock absorber performance also contribute to enhanced ride comfort, while greater body rigidity better suppresses high-frequency vibration. And that means less noise, a smoother ride, and sharper handling.

Legal Disclaimers

[1] Do not rely exclusively on the Blind Spot Monitor to determine if a lane change is safe. Always look over your shoulder and use your turn signal before changing lanes. There are several limitations to the function, detection, range, and clarity of the monitor. For a complete list of limitations and directions regarding use of the monitor, please see your owner’s manual.

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