LOS ANGELES -- Bob Carter realizes that free espresso ain't what it used to be.
The new Lexus Division general manager knows that his dealerships' once-special touches now have plenty of imitators. For Lexus to hang on to the customer-satisfaction crown, it must find new ways to surprise and delight its owners.
"A free espresso, an explanatory meeting in the service drive and a detailed car afterward was 'wow' back in 1994. But not today," Carter says.
This will be even harder as U.S. Lexus sales peak.
Lexus has sold the most vehicles of any luxury brand in the United States for five years running, reaching 287,927 unit sales last year. Lexus could sell 350,000 units annually by the end of the decade. As Lexus approaches 2.5 million vehicles in operation, and just 210 U.S. dealerships to handle them, it will be difficult to make the customer feel special, Carter admits.
"When you buy a car, it's not relevant to you whether we sold 300,000 others or 40,000 others," he says. "What is relevant is the one that you bought."
As a result, Carter, 45, is looking less at Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar for ideas and more toward Four Seasons Hotels, Tiffany & Co. and Nordstrom.
"When you purchase a Lexus, the ownership experience will be better than anywhere in luxury retail," predicts Carter, who took his post in April. "Not just automotive -- more like the Four Seasons."
This is Carter's fourth stint at Lexus in his 24-year Toyota Motor Corp. career. He was part of the launch team and worked in dealer development and Lexus' field offices. His most recent job was as vice president of sales for Toyota Division.