How surfing—that’s right, surfing—is shaping the next generation of Lexus vehicles.
The connection between surfer and surfboard is intimate. A good board doesn’t just react faithfully to subtle shifts in body weight. It feels linked to the surfer’s brain. But you don’t need to tell that to Shuichi Ozaki. He’s been surfing for 25 years. He’s also a Lexus Meister for all models, and his job is to heighten the intimate relationship between Lexus drivers and their cars.
To appreciate his skill, simply observe Ozaki with a surfboard. He can study one for hours, fine-tuning its shape in his mind. “A difference in detail of less than 1 millimeter changes the way you traverse the waves,” he says. “So I’ll gently move my hand over the board’s surface—experience tells me how even minor changes will affect its performance.”
At Lexus, Ozaki’s work also involves feel, but there are many ways of feeling. One is by touch; another happens at an emotional level. Ozaki’s job is to fuse different ways of feeling into a natural, cohesive driver experience.
“As the final touch, tuning with your senses is important, after numerical evaluations using machines.” Ozaki says. “You can achieve things with sensual tuning that even very advanced measuring devices cannot. It enables the emotional connection between the driver and the car to feel natural, as though it has always existed.”
Consider the Lexus paddle shifters. A finger tap engages the next gear, up or down, of a sequential six-speed automatic transmission while your palms stay connected to the wheel. (Changes can happen fast, and on downshifts the throttle can blip with racecar precision to ensure luxury-car smoothness.)
“This fits the driver’s natural posture,” Ozaki says. “So when your fingers touch and operate the paddle shift, there’s no stress or distracting sense of weight in your wrist or elbow. That’s attention to detail.” And for Ozaki, details are interconnected.
For example, the 2013 GS paddle shifters sit behind a wheel now angled at 21 degrees instead of 23, and whose offset has been changed by 5 millimeters. The wheel’s cross-section shape varies around the circumference—wherever you grip the wheel, it’s formed so that your palm fits comfortably. Also, the spokes’ reverse sides are slightly thinner, so that fingertips fit very well. And that’s the point. It isn’t about cold calculation. It’s about making it feel right—and that requires sensory capabilities that only humans have.
“Everyone on my team is proud of their skills,” he says. “To create a car like the GS, passion and persistence are vital. Without it, you cannot make anything special.”
The GS certainly feels special, whether you’re cruising quietly or zipping along a mountain road. “It’s that kind of car,” Ozaki says. “You don’t need to wear driving shoes to feel the connection. You can drive to a restaurant and step out feeling calm and invigorated.” For Ozaki, that’s success: a car that connects naturally. So job done? Not at all. He’s a Lexus Meister—and a Lexus Meister’s work is never done.