As the world continues to go gaga over sport utility vehicles, sales of traditional “three box” sedans are tumbling. At Lexus, sedan sales were down by a whopping 35% in the first quarter of 2017. That led Tokuo Fukuichi, head of global branding for Toyota, to tell the press at the Shanghai auto show, “Unless we can really offer a sedan experience you cannot have with an SUV or crossover, I think the sedan may not be able to survive if it does not evolve.”
Fukuichi noted that the changeover from sedans to SUVs tracks lifestyle changes in society. A person who buys a luxury car today is more likely to slip behind the wheel wearing jeans and a T shirt than a three piece suit. That change alone is a good reason to move away from the formal three box look to a more sculpted, fastback look. Even SUVs are feeling the pressure to look more like sports coupes and less like boxy, haul anything, go anywhere vehicles.
He says the next Lexus LS sedan will have more of that swept back look. “That reflects a change in the lifestyle and fashion of the typical driver of high-end sedans. They are becoming more casual and so are sedans.” He pointed to the Porsche Panamera as the direction sedan styling must go in and then he said something extraordinary.
Fukuichi hinted that there might even be a Lexus station wagon one day. Yes, the lowly station wagon, a car that has virtually disappeared from dealer showrooms, may be ready for a renaissance. “Personally, I would like to have a Lexus wagon if we had enough resources,” he said. “Maybe not as tall as an SUV but not as short as a [minivan]. There could be some optimized packaging. If we’re going to do it, it can’t be just an ordinary station wagon,” he said.
The branding chief said he believes that sedans must offer much crisper handling to offset the extra room offered by SUVs. As crossovers handle more like passenger cars, traditional cars will need to have better driving dynamics. They must also present as less formal transportation to align with today’s more casual lifestyles.
Crossovers and SUVs are winning over customers for good reason, Fukuichi said. They offer lots of space, they are easy to get into and out of, and the driver position is higher than it is in a traditional sedan. Most importantly, current models are comfortable to drive, unlike original SUVs that were built on a truck chassis. Lexus sedans need a lower center of gravity and sharper steering response, especially during low speed maneuvers. “At the initial touch, it needs to respond sharply,” Fukuichi said.
It may not seem like it, but automobile styling is continually evolving as car companies try to keep pace with the latest trends. Sharply creased bodywork is in, then it is replaced with smoothly rounded contours. Now creases are back in vogue again. Once sedans had nearly vertical rear windows, giving the cars a formal look. Hatchbacks were in before they were out. Now they are everywhere once again.
One thing that seems here to stay is a preference for higher seats. Whether it is to give drivers a sense of superiority over others or because older drivers with creaky hips and knees find it easier to get in and out, the higher seating in crossovers and SUVs is highly appealing to many new car shoppers today.
If Fukuishi-san asked my opinion, I would tell him to ditch the nuclear powered chipper shredder look that dominates the front of almost every Lexus sold today. I know it is supposed to look bold, even menacing, but its just painful to look at. I would gladly sacrifice a lower center of gravity for a car whose grille doesn’t look like it’s ready to commit a Class B felony on unsuspecting pedestrians at a moment’s notice. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I know, but if asked for my opinion, that’s what I would say.
Source: Automotive News