LOS ANGELES — The 416-hp Lexus IS-F sedan, which debuts in February, is all about performance — not something that consumers have come to expect from the brand.
The marketing campaign for the car will stray from the traditional Lexus ideal as well.
Instead of a mass-media campaign, Lexus will try to prove the IS-F's credibility at the racetrack, said Brian Bolain, Lexus' national manager of interactive marketing and automotive events.
"The typical Lexus buyer is not going to be persuaded into an IS-F," Bolain said. "It's for someone who wants power and control. We are going to focus heavily on driving opportunities."
Lexus' performance credentials have fallen short of those of its European rivals. Many luxury buyers perceive Lexus models as excellent appliances but don't rate the brand highly in driving experience.
"We have a lot of ground to make up," Bolain said.
Lexus has started by allowing sports car enthusiasts to drive IS-F prototypes at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif., even before jour-nalists were offered evaluation drives.
The driving tour will continue at five other racetracks around the country. In addition, 10 to 12 street driving locations will be used where a racetrack is not available. Lexus will have the full IS and GS sedan lineups available for testing but no competitive makes, Bolain said.
At auto shows, Lexus has programmed the IS-F dynamics into three driving simulators. Participants will be given the game's software after they have driven the simulated car. The Lexus booth also will have a dynamometer to prove Lexus' horsepower figure.
Not that Lexus will avoid all media. The car will have a small print campaign in enthusiast media. Cinemas will get a short-subject film. A dedicated online site offers live chat with a Lexus representative about the availability of the vehicle and its F-Sport accessory line.
"The last thing I want to be is gimmicky," Bolain said. "We are talking about a sophisticated buyer."
Lexus will announce pricing of the IS-F closer to launch. Although U.S. executives forecast annual sales of 2,400 to 3,600, Toyota executives in Japan have predicted 5,000 U.S. sales a year.