From supercars to bicycles, Lexus workshop shifts gears
|Hans Greimel is Asia editor for Automotive News.|
TOKYO -- Call it an ignoble evolution of Lexus' famed LFA Works.
Master craftsmen at Toyota Motor Corp.'s secretive workshop used to build the luxury brand's $375,000 LFA halo sports car.
Now, they make bicycles. Granted, the bicycles are $10,000 carbon-fiber units, but it's a big tumble from the LFA's screaming 4.8-liter V-10 engine to the 22-speed, pedal-pumped F Sport Roadbike.
Lexus touts the new bicycle, which just went on sale only in Japan, as embodying the "principles and philosophy" of the LFA.
Only 100 of the bikes were painstakingly made by hand from January to March at the LFA Works, inside Toyota Motor Corp.'s Motomachi assembly plant in Toyota City.
The LFA was also a limited batch -- of just 500 vehicles. The last car came off the line Dec. 15. Since then, Toyota has been scratching its head about how to use the LFA Works and its expensive carbon fiber manufacturing machines.
Now enter Lexus' first two-wheeler.
"To ensure the highest level of Lexus quality, the workshop that created the LFA was chosen as the most appropriate place to assemble the Lexus F Sport Roadbike," its brochure says. "The stage is set for a new chapter in Lexus' history."
The bike is heavy on lightweight carbon fiber. The frame, forks, seat, handlebars, seat post, rims and crankshafts are all made of the superexpensive, superstrong material.
But the only hitch: None of the bike's carbon fiber parts are made at the LFA Works -- despite its having extensive carbon fiber spinning, molding and autoclaving equipment.
Such key parts as the frame were imported from Taiwan, concedes Naoki Watanabe, a Lexus sales and marketing manager.
What to do with the LFA Works' carbon fiber factory has been a big question. Neither Lexus nor Toyota publicly plans another carbon fiber-bodied vehicle such as the LFA. But Toyota put the factory to work this year making a carbon fiber roof for a concept sports version of the Japan-market Mark X sedan.
The bicycle also helped keep the workers busy.
And the new black-and-white Lexus one-seater is plenty techy, for true bike geeks. The ride weighs only 15 pounds. The front derailleur is electronically controlled, for an instantaneous, smooth click into gear. And the shift levers are modeled after the paddle shifters in Formula One racers.
Perhaps most impressive, Watanabe boasts, is that each lustrous carbon fiber frame is polished by hand for three hours to elicit the glowing lacquer finish necessitated by Lexus.
Lexus has been debating a bicycle since at least early 2012, to answer the lineup of bicycles and logo-slathered bric-a-brac peddled by German premium brands including BMW and Porsche.
In Japan, Lexus bikes sell for 1 million yen, or about $10,092. Watanabe says Lexus has received 35 orders.