Lexus, which sold less than 6,000 electric vehicles worldwide last yearensures that it is prepared for, in just eight years, fbuild a million electric cars. Making this operation sustainable and profitable is a complex task, according to its executives. Toyota’s premium firm must not only develop these new vehicles but also you have to make them, and for that you will have to design a new way to produce them. Mixed production and software become keys.
Takashi Watanabechief engineer at Lexus Electrified, the division tasked with making the brand free from gasoline vehicles, says that will mean more flexible manufacturing, include more lines dedicated only to assembling electric vehicles and, above all, a mixed production with Toyota for models aimed at the mass market. This change will also mean trusting a new operating system for cars that will fully manage them, accelerate product development and be common to the entire Toyota Group.
Strategy is of paramount importance here as it will require production lines to be capable of move nimbly to respond to market demands and regulations. Lexus must be prepared for unpredictable changes, not only in customer needs, but also in charging infrastructure, technological advances and regulations.
“It is an extremely difficult challenge to switch everything to the electric vehicle and maintain a sustainable business,” he assures Automotive News. “We need to innovate the entire car manufacturing process.” That uncertainty means Lexus must be prepared for any eventuality as it looks for more suitable technologies, such as the development of solid electrolyte batteries.
Lexus will move its brand headquarters to the Toyota Shimoyama Technical Center in 2024 to design its electric vehicles there. The center plays a key role in Lexus’ intention announced late last year to become an electric-only brand in Europe, the US and China by 2030 and be ready to sell only electric cars by 2035.
Lexus will share the production investment with Toyota. However, this has always fled from a strategy of this type. Lexus lines assemble models with high precision, partly due to its exclusivity. The mixed production of electric vehicles will be used in cases in which Lexus and Toyota vehicles share platformslike architecture e-TNGA that Toyota Motor introduced for its electric models. That’s why the new Lexus RZ will be built at Toyota’s Motomachi Assembly Plant on the same line as the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra. All three are based on the same electric platform, making combined production more efficient. Watanabe states that Lexus will consider mixed production with Toyota for mobilize economies of scaleeven as Lexus considers building its own dedicated lines.
Such a joint strategy is quite rare today. In all Toyota factories, only four lines combine vehicles from the two brands. One of them is at the Tsutsumi Assembly Plant that makes the Lexus ES along with the Toyota Camry and Corolla. Another at the Tahara plant, where the Lexus GX is assembled alongside the Toyota 4Runner and Land Cruiser Prado SUVs. The third is the Toyota Auto Body line that assembles the Lexus LX and Land Cruiser SUVs. Finally, at Toyota’s plant in Cambridge, Ontario, the Lexus NX and Toyota RAV4 compact crossovers are built at the same time. Toyota’s plant in India builds the Lexus ES on the same line as Toyota’s models, but it does so on an exclusive shift with a dedicated separate crew of workers.
Another option, according to Watanabe, would be manufacture the electric ones in the lines that already manufacture hybrids lexus, adding a subline to install specific batteries, motors, or other components. For example, at the Lexus plant in Kyushu, engineers added production of the UX 300e to the main production line of hybrid and internal combustion versions of the compact crossover. “We are now starting to look at which factories, which lines and which products will need to be adjusted,” Watanabe said, even adding that new manufacturing approaches might be needed.
The importance of software
In the future, Lexus will be able to better react to market fluctuations thanks to the new Arene automotive operating system which has been developed by its software subsidiary company Woven Planet of Toyota.
Arene will arrive cars of all Toyota brands around 2025. It will allow them to be programmable, so much so that they will look a lot like a smartphone. common software accelerate the development of vehicles and will enable fast, wireless, remote updates to vehicles already on the road.
Lexus will use this technology to extend its brand identity with unique services and features. This product strategy is especially important in electric vehicles, where hardware is expected to become more of a common feature and software is expected to emerge as the differentiator brand key.
“Beyond driving the car, we are able to provide our customers with new values and services,” explains Tatsuya Ishigaki, Associate Chief Engineer, Lexus Electrified. “The entire car experience can be improved.”
Toyota has introduced wireless updates to its high-end vehicles, and will implement this capability in the Lexus RZ that goes on sale this year. But the current system still lacks the full flexibility that the company hopes to generate through Arene.
Meanwhile, Lexus prepares its offer to adjust it to the latest electrification trends. Should the trend towards automotive electrification subside, Lexus can always respond with hybrids. But if it grows, Lexus has to move up to an annual production of one million electric vehicles. “It’s just a question of when the crest of the wave will hit,” Watanabe clarifies: “We don’t know exactly when,” he said, “but we’ll be ready.”