Lexus spends $35 million to bag younger LS buyers

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The Lexus Division of Toyota Motor Sales USA is launching the third generation of its flagship LS sedan with a $35 million media blitz. The effort heralds the arrival of the 2001 model LS 430, which reaches dealerships Oct. 12. The campaign broke Sept. 16 during NBC's Olympic Games broadcast and continues, primarily on TV, through Thanksgiving.

Lexus is aiming for younger consumers for the model, which replaces its LS 400. Denny Clements, group VP-general manager of Lexus, said the target group for the new luxury sedan has a median age between 47 and 55, while the current LS buyer's median age is 58 years old. "The exterior design is much more dramatic than the previous generation LS 400," said Mr. Clements, who admitted that past observations about the LS styling have included words such as "sedate" and "boring."

The 430, however, is loaded with gizmos, from optional automatic rain-sensing windshield wipers and optional parking sensors to a heated rear seat with massager. The optional laser cruise control can automatically slow the LS 430 when another vehicle cuts in front or the vehicle ahead slows. The base model starts at $54,550 including delivery.


Two auto experts, while crediting Lexus' quality and success, don't agree with Mr. Clements on the styling issue, a key factor in wooing younger buyers.

"I see the styling as a little Achilles' heel" for the LS 430, said Gordon Wangers, managing partner of AMCI, a consultancy that, among other things, certifies competitive auto performance for ads. Lexus may move the median LS buyer age down -- but only by a couple of years, he said. However, Mr. Wangers, described it as "one of the best automobiles ever made," citing its smooth ride, powerful engine and creature comforts.

Dan Gorrell, VP and auto expert at consumer researcher Strategic Vision, said Lexus "didn't break any new ground in terms of styling" with the LS 430. Designs by luxury segment leader Mercedes-Benz USA, Lexus' leading rival, are "more elegant and a little more daring."


Mr. Gorrell said Lexus' dilemma is "it's trying to appeal to younger people and keep the older ones. How can you be both?"

A Lexus spokeswoman said the brand competes in a variety of vehicle segments with "our different product offerings designed to attract different people."

Team One Advertising, El Segundo, Calif., tries to stir emotions for the LS 430 with two new TV spots shot in Italy; both show a montage of people taking notice of the luxury sedan. In one, they mouth the words to a sound track of Dinah Shore singing her 1946 ditty "Shoo Fly Pie." In the other, they tap their toes to Lyle Lovett's "Summer Wind," then gather and dance around the car at Rome's Piazza Mincio fountain.

The car's new tag is "Imagine how you'll feel driving it." The new Lexus divisional tag, appearing in national ads for all vehicles from now on, is "the passionate pursuit of perfection." It succeeds "the relentless pursuit of perfection."

Team One also created at least two regional TV spots for dealer ad groups focusing more on the car's features. The first of three print executions arrives Sept. 21 in The Wall Street Journal. The buy includes October and November magazines.


Lexus declined to reveal spending, but according to Competitive Media Reporting, the brand was supported with $138.2 million in measured media last year, down from $151.4 in 1998.

Mr. Clements projected this year's LS 430 sales would total 8,500 units, rising to 25,000 units in 2001. Lexus sold 16,357 units of the predecessor model in 1999 and 7,330 through August of this year, according to Automotive News.

Mr. Clements said the new sedan will help Lexus reach sales of 200,000 units this year. Last year, the marketer sold 185,890 units.

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