The Lexus Covenant is etched in a 6½-foot slab of black granite block in the lobby of the automaker's U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas. It includes this promise: "Lexus will treat each customer as we would a guest in our home."
At the Fixed Ops Journal Forum in Atlanta in August, I met Richard Chitty, who put these words into action nearly 30 years ago. As the Toyota luxury brand launched its debut car, the LS400, in America, it immediately faced a trio of technical problems — one of them potentially deadly.
Before he retired from Toyota more than a decade ago, Chitty held a series of senior management positions with Lexus. In fall 1989, Chitty was running parts and service as the brand rolled out at 79 U.S. dealerships.
The flagship LS400 got off to a strong start in September, but just weeks after it went on sale, three defects forced Toyota to recall about 8,000 of the cars. That was an embarrassment for a new luxury brand going up against Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Lexus' tag line, "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection," promised unparalleled quality.
Two of the LS400's problems were minor: An improperly attached alternator wire caused batteries to drain in some cars, and the plastic housing around the third brake light could melt if the brakes were applied for long periods.
But the third problem — a faulty cruise control module that failed to disengage — put the Lexus brand in jeopardy, Chitty told me.