Changes coming

Lexus’ head of global design tells us what’s next on the Lexus look-and-feel front.

It’s about five weeks before the first 2011 Lexus models start arriving at Lexus dealerships, so we thought this would be the perfect time to catch up with Lexus’ head of global design, Simon Humphries, to see what’s coming down the pike:

Lexus: First of all, now that we know that the 2011 IS will have body changes, are there any big design updates coming for other 2011 models?

HUMPHRIES: At this point I can say only that there will also be a change in the front-end design of the GS, most likely arriving in 2012. Both the IS and future GS updates are dramatic changes—they’re much more distinctive, much more unique. In our minds, these aren't complete black to white sort of changes, but they are an evolution.

Okay, how about the larger picture. We’ve heard more and more that Lexus vehicles will be changing, but what are the specifics there, at least from your perspective?

I think our biggest change we’ve been working on comes down to one issue, and that’s that Lexus is now heavily focused on being a driver’s vehicle. In other words, in the luxury market, I think that all manufacturers have got to decide whether they’re going to produce formal ride-in-the-back-type prestige cars or vehicles that are meant to be thrilling to drive. Lexus is definitely now heavily emphasizing, and will continue to do so, a driving-oriented ideology—cars that are completely driver focused. The LFA is, of course, a symbol of that change in many ways.

How does this translate to your world, vehicle design? We’ve noticed that the shapes and angles of Lexus vehicles are getting somewhat sharper and edgier.

Yes, that’s been a very conscious decision. With the focus on a fun driving experience, we’ll eventually be taking the entire line in a much bolder design direction, which isn’t just about the car as a whole. Like I said, you’ll soon see that in the identity of the front-ends, like the IS and GS for 2011. But if you want to see what I’m talking about right now, take a look at the face of the CT 200h; the grille design is bold, very distinctive. That is something we intend to take through the whole line, so you can look forward to that, perhaps, in each model’s next generation.

Looking out a few years, what do you see as the main challenge for automobile designers?

Well, the relationship between human and machine is obviously becoming a very, very heavy connection. We saw this years ago, and even devised a design philosophy that takes advantage of it, a notion of “anticipation.” In other words, we decided to design vehicles that are “aware” of what the driver needs before he or she does, and to make the connection a pleasant, intuitive experience.

Can you give us a real example of a Lexus design solution here?

The Remote Touch system is a good example. Here you have a technology that makes it easier to control other technologies. We deliberately placed the device near the driver, so you can see it. It’s almost a seating-control situation, so everything is together: the driver in the seat, the device right next to the seat, and the screen in the same panel as the device. Through design, there is a natural connection between the human and the technology. It's, of course, already in the RX and HS 250h, and will be in the CT 200h as well.

Finally, how do you see other forms of power affecting automotive design?

Personally, I think there needs to be more investigation, and perhaps more open-mindedness in the industry, as to what actually defines a car. As we move further into the electric era, it will be impossible to make cars in the same ways we do now, which Lexus already knows. And it won’t be as simple as switching from gasoline to electrically powered vehicles. Some types of automobiles will be made for certain energies, and others will be ideal for other energy types. So this is also going to create a lot of change and variety in automotive design packaging. It will be a very interesting time, I think.