|Most luxury high-performance lines have limited impact on sales volume.|
|LINE||2013 U.S. UNIT SALES||% OF TOTAL VOLUME|
|*Offered only on CTS model line|
LOS ANGELES -- Lexus executives want the performance versions of their products to have as much gravitas as those of the BMW M or Mercedes-Benz AMG divisions.
Now Toyota's luxury arm is spending money to prove it, with the first nationwide TV campaign for its F-badged series of vehicles.
In depicting examples of lust, wrath, envy and pride in relation to Lexus F-badged vehicles, the 60-second commercial tries to change some people's perception of Lexus as a builder of soulless appliances.
"Temptation comes in many heart-pounding forms, but only one letter," the female voice-over intones.
No mention is made of sloth, gluttony or greed -- the other three deadly sins, which no automaker would want associated with its products.
In Lexus' market research, people familiar with the AMG and M divisions also knew of Lexus F. But owners of base-model luxury vehicles had far less recognition that Lexus had a performance line, said Brian Bolain, Lexus' corporate manager of marketing communications
"It's time to broaden awareness with more direct looks at our competitors," Bolain said.
He said Lexus wanted to expand its performance line's image "without offending our original buyers."
Like the cars themselves, the Lexus F commercial takes some outrageous turns for those accustomed to the brand's typically conservative creative work. There is plenty of tire chirping from the cars. A couple grinds and writhes in the rain. A man exits his IS F and enters a hotel with an attractive woman on each arm, past an appreciative, gawking bellman. The soundtrack is a knockoff of menacing English synthesizer band Massive Attack.
This is not your uncle's Lexus commercial.
It's not hard to see why Lexus wants more from its performance line. Not only does it give the overall brand a shot of racing authenticity, but the performance add-ons also make for much higher transaction prices and profit margins.
Even though BMW's M division represents barely 2 percent of the German automaker's U.S. sales, and Mercedes' AMG slightly under 3 percent, both brands benefit handsomely in terms of good will and perceptions. Meanwhile, Audi's S and RS models outsell both AMG and M divisions in unit count and in percentage of total sales.
Lexus' F line implementation is still in its early stages. The LFA supercar sold only a few hundred U.S. units in its three-year run, and Lexus sold only 185 of the IS F sedans last year. Although Lexus redesigned the IS sedan last summer, the F version is still based on the older generation. But Lexus has been making hay with its F Sport accessories line -- which has the appearance of high performance, if not the actual fury -- which is similar to body kits used by its German competition for those with smaller budgets. Nearly one in three IS and GS sedans comes in F Sport cladding.
Now, Lexus hopes to move people into the versions that boast the actual performance credentials. Lexus has confirmed an F version of the upcoming RC coupe, and prototypes of the GS F sedan have been spotted screaming around Germany's Nurburgring test track.
"We're going to market Lexus under platforms, so we'll have the basic lineup times F, and the basic lineup times hybrid," Bolain said. "We'll let the dealer explain to the customer what his options are."