Editor's note: An earlier version of this story provided an incorrect age for Tokuo Fukuichi and was accompanied by an incorrect photo of Fukuichi.
TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp. is giving design unprecedented clout in a management shuffle that puts the company's global design chief, Tokuo Fukuichi, in charge of Lexus division and on the board.
Fukuichi, who leads design at the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands, will take over as president of Lexus International, the company announced today. He will keep his role as head of the worldwide design group.
It's the first time a design chief has been the global head of Lexus. He assumes his new duties at Toyota's luxury marque on April 1 but his board appointment will take effect following a general shareholders' meeting, which is usually scheduled in June.
Fukuichi, 62, will take his place on a slightly downsized board where he will fill a slot normally reserved for the head of Lexus International.
Current Lexus International President Kiyotaka Ise will leave the board and become chief officer of the company's r&d group. Ise, an engineer by training, will also oversee materials engineering, fuel cell development and sports vehicle management.
Elevating Fukuichi, an outspoken champion of experimenting with more polarizing, eye-catching styling, underscores the imperative of President Akio Toyoda to focus more on design.
Next year's arrival of Toyota's new generation of vehicles using commonized parts is expected to bring a breakthrough in developing vehicles with more head-turning looks. The new product development strategy, dubbed TNGA, will debut in the redesigned Prius hybrid.
The new Toyota board will shrink by one seat to 15 executives.
Lexus set a global sales record of more than 523,000 vehicles last year, topping a previous best of 518,300 set in 2007. About half of the brand's worldwide deliveries were in the U.S., where sales climbed 12 percent to 273,847.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz dethroned Lexus as the U.S. luxury sales leader since 2011 after the Japanese brand was No. 1 for 11 years.
Toyota has said reclaiming leadership will be difficult because it has no plans to follow German brands in introducing entry- level vehicles priced below $30,000, such as the Mercedes CLA and Audi A3.
A new CT hybrid began arriving in Lexus's U.S. dealerships in January, and the RC F starts deliveries later this year. Toyota also is evaluating whether to sell the LF-NX crossover, shown at the Tokyo motor show in November, in the U.S. market.
Lexus aims to grow as much as 10 percent annually for the next 30 years as it expands in emerging markets including China, Vietnam, Brazil and Peru, Mark Templin, the second executive vice president for the luxury brand, said in a January interview at the Detroit auto show.
Templin, 53, has been a global executive vice president since April 2013, after having managed sales and marketing in the U.S. market.
Bloomberg contributed to this report