Amidst Criticism of the Spindle Grille, Lexus Says Bolder Is Better
Taking risks is just a part of the game when you’re designing for a major automaker like Lexus, but not everyone will always like the results. Toyota Motor Corp is dealing with a bit of controversy currently over Lexus’ signature spindle grille design, a risk that has been met with some fairly harsh criticism.
The spindle grille was introduced in the 2010 Lexus CT and was later incorporated into the redesigned Lexus GS. Some Lexus insiders said the new look reminded them of “an ugly deep-sea creature”. One US design professor said the grille looked like the mouth of the Predator, an 80’s sci-fi alien villain. An angry shareholder even complained once that the new face of Lexus was giving the brand a bad reputation. But Tokuo Fukuichi, the global chief of Lexus, stands by the design.
“When CEO Akio Toyoda asked me to come back [from a subsidiary in 2011], he told me he wanted to make our cars cool. That meant he thought our cars weren’t sexy, “ Fukuichi explained. That conversation was the impetus to his creation of the spindle grille, which, while risky, was the design shock-therapy the brand needed at the time.
Up until 2011, Toyota designed cars by committees, often comprised of several dozen people. The result was a conservative style that everyone could agree on but which nobody was passionate about. With his more singular vision, Fukuichi was able to inject some energy back into the Lexus design. Even if everybody isn’t a fan, Lexus finally has a stand-out face that exudes edginess. Fukuichi points out that in competitive emerging markets like China, where Lexus sales trail by a wide margin, buyers will pay more for a car that stands out from the crowd.
A former Rolls Royce designer once said that the pinched-in-the-middle spindle grille was a “design no-no” because it created an “uncomfortable tension” in the lines and shape of the Lexus cars. Fukuichi’s response? “Even polarizing designs, you get used to them after a while.” Conservatism can only take you so far, and if Lexus wants to compete with Mercedes-Benz and Aston Martin they can use all the shock value they can get.
Of course, not everyone is a critic. A senior Nissan Motor Corp. designer said the company’s Infiniti premium brand quietly dropped plans to adopt a similar spindle grille profile because Lexus beat them to the punch. And what about sales? Reports from Lexus’ showrooms are quite positive. The automaker’s global sales have grown 42 percent since the introduction of the spindle grille with over 583,000 vehicles moved last year. Bold design, it appears, pays.