Hans Greimel
Hans Greimel
Asia Editor, Tokyo
The 'three tastes' of Akio Toyoda

Does the Lexus IS make you hungry?

The 'three tastes' of Akio Toyoda

To Akio Toyoda, the best styling trait of the Lexus IS -- which hit showrooms June 28 -- is its "stance."
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TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda relishes mixed metaphors when it comes to cars and food.

In particular, he loves to talk about "seasoning" his vehicles -- something the long-too-bland Toyota brand desperately needs.

The race-driver CEO, who as recently as a three years ago said he test drives hundreds of cars a year, peppers conversations with culinary parlance about the "foretaste," "middle-taste," and "aftertaste" of a specific vehicle.

So when the latest Lexus IS sedan went on sale this summer, it's no surprise he dipped back in the kitchen for commentary.

To him, the best styling trait of the car -- which hit showrooms June 28 -- is its "stance." The IS's solid planting elicits mouthwatering "foretaste," Toyoda said at a Tokyo launch event.

What does that mean? The IS has looks that beckon salivating wannabe-drivers to climb aboard, punch the starter button and stomp on the gas. "It makes you want to drive it," Toyoda says.

But that's just part of the recipe.

In Akio's restaurant -- he once described himself as the owner-chef of a kind of Toyota Motor Café -- every car needs delectable middle-taste: How does it "taste" when actually driven? Zesty, succulent, lip-smacking? Or too salty and just empty calories?

And finally, how about the aftertaste? When you unbuckle, does that car elicit good memories and a yearning to drive again?

If so, its engineers have cooked up something good.

Toyoda -- grandson of the company's founder -- has been busy at the stove since taking office in 2009, trying to whip up more gourmet cars. It shows in offerings such as the IS, the redesigned Toyota Corolla compact and the Avalon sedan.

But customers are the final arbiters of taste. Will they be giving Toyota three stars and coming back for seconds?

If Toyoda flavors his "three tastes" correctly, they ought to. But he still has a long climb to the top of the Michelin Guide.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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