"Our product plan is what I would call a work in progress," Christ told Automotive News last week.
The redesigned ES sedan and the coming UX crossover are critical pieces of that work.
The ES, descendant of one of Lexus' earliest models, has long been the sleeper hit of the Lexus family, popular but nondescript, with a front-wheel-drive platform shared with the Toyota Camry.
The redesigned model is a fitting metaphor for the aspirations of the brand as a whole. It's new from top to bottom, with sharper creases and a more confident stance. The six-cylinder engine has more power, the automatic transmission has two more gears, and the suspension sits on a new global platform. But the 2019 ES will cost about the same as the outgoing model, at just under $40,000 for the base, making it a value relative to German competitors.
It's likely to please current Lexus owners, Christ said, but more importantly, it's expected to draw a different crowd to the brand.
About a quarter of sales for the ES are expected to come from the F Sport model, the sportier trim that is being offered on the big sedan for the first time. That package is aimed at younger males, whom Lexus needs as future brand loyalists.
The Lexus rumor mill suggests the ES later will get all-wheel drive and perhaps replace the GS, though Christ wouldn't comment on that.
Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst at IHS Markit, thinks the ES is a good example of Lexus finding its new styling "voice." It's more coherent and exciting in her eyes than the UX, which she finds "a little crazy" and "awkward."
But Lexus will need the UX to deliver those young customers, too. Its competitors have been able to move aggressively into crossover niches and entry models to lure younger buyers, partially because they don't have to worry about cannibalizing sales of a sister brand, as Lexus does with Toyota.
Take small crossovers. BMW alone has four vehicles in the premium compact crossover segment: the X1, X2, X3 and X4. Lexus has one, the NX, which led the segment last year, with the UX due in December.