TOKYO -- One of the most perplexing cars at the Geneva auto show is the Lexus LF-SA minicar concept.
The Japanese luxury brand has said repeatedly that it won't dabble in the sub-$30,000 zone. The company could build a car in that price range, but it wouldn't be a true Lexus, says Mark Templin, Lexus International executive vice president.
And now this: an ultracompact four-seater that would take on the Mini hatchback and Audi A1 in the entry-premium segment. Those cars' stickers typically start under that $30,000 threshold.
Templin insists the LF-SA is just a design study and that Lexus has no intention of lowering its pricing point. But it is difficult to see how Lexus could command $30,000 or more for such an offering.
Lexus' parent, Toyota Motor Corp., originally tried to position its iQ minicar as a premium alternative to compacts, saying value goes far beyond size. But in the U.S., that car is sold as the Scion iQ, with a sticker that starts at $16,435, including shipping.
Granted, the LF-SA is roomy, with a body slightly wider and about 15 inches longer than the iQ.
But how else might Lexus justify a luxury price tag for the tiny car?
First, offer it with a hybrid-only drivetrain, or an all-electric one.
Second, deliver the cutting-edge technology shown on the Geneva concept: a steering wheel and pedals that adjust to the driver's position in a fixed seat, and a crystalline instrument panel with a hologram and head-up display, complemented by a touchpad in the center console.
Perhaps Templin is telling it straight, and the LF-SA should just be taken as a pure design exercise. Lexus executives say they want to push styling further into wild, polarizing and inspiring looks. The LF-SA's bold, aggressive grille and dramatic body contours are certainly that.
Then again, maybe Lexus is actually testing the waters for a new brand strategy.