‘We’ve created craftsmen, now we’re creating cars’ | The Financial Express

‘We’ve created craftsmen, now we’re creating cars’

Lexus India is the only luxury carmaker at the Auto Expo 2023

auto sector, auto industry
Caricature: Naveen Soni . Lexus

Lexus, the luxury car brand of Toyota, entered India in March 2017. But it took the carmaker more than two years to start local assembly of cars. It started with the ES sedan (right now priced Rs 61.6 lakh onwards) just before the Covid-19 lockdown happened.

Today, almost six years since it entered India, the carmaker still assembles only one car (the ES) and imports all other models (NX, RX and LX SUVs, LS sedan, and LC coupe).

Naveen Soni, president, Lexus India, told FE that even though the carmaker seems to be going slow on CKD operations—assembling cars in India using completely knocked down kits—it is actually undergoing a quick and sustainable learning process.

“Over the last three years, we’ve been making the ES sedan in India, and it’s proudly made by technicians who come from a rural and/or below-poverty-line background,” Soni said. “We have trained them to craft Lexus cars at the Toyota factory near Bengaluru. The ES made in India is exactly the same as made in Japan. These technicians have been trained at our local technical institutes and their average age is about 25 years. They are much younger than their Japanese counterparts (over 40 years of age), and yet their craftsmanship is that of global Lexus standards (much higher than that of most other carmakers).”

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While Soni didn’t share how many cars Lexus has sold in India since 2017 or even in calendar year 2022, he said that in 2022 Lexus India grew by 76% over 2021 (on a low base).

Over the last couple of years, the brand has seen increasing interest from genuine buyers, thanks to Lexus India’s outreach efforts, including during the times of crises.

“The interest in ‘brand Lexus’ has been rising, but to have a stronghold takes time. We have been in India for over five years now, and have been relentlessly working towards meeting our customers’ needs,” Soni said. “We may appear to be going slow, but we know that once a customer gets into the Lexus fold, she will likely stay with us forever.”

Auto experts FE talked to said that every Lexus delivery and after-sales experience is unique. “Attention to detail is ensured towards meeting customer requirements,” said one expert (and a Lexus owner) on the condition of anonymity. “Last year, for example, there was a flood situation in Bengaluru. It wasn’t necessary for any brand to react, but Lexus made sure that all customers whose cars got inundated and required repairs got a new Lexus vehicle at their doorstep for usage till their own car got serviced. Such attention gives customers the confidence that the brand is always by their side. Such initiatives not only help sales numbers rise, albeit gradually, but also give customers joy.”

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Soni said that Lexus is famous globally for two things—best car technology and Omotenashi (Japanese hospitality).

At the Auto Expo 2023, Lexus India is the only luxury carmaker taking part, and competitors like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover have skipped it.

“We are attending because we want to tell Indian customers that we are here for the long term,” Soni said. “We also had to make a brand announcement at the Auto Expo.”

Lexus India unveiled the RX SUV at the Auto Expo, which will be available in two trims (RX 350h Luxury and RX 500h F Sport Performance), and it will be likely launched in March this year.

Soni said that even though he won’t be able to share sales numbers (Lexus India doesn’t share sales with the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers either), the long-term aim is to make India the biggest market (outside Japan and China) in Asia. “The head office in Japan has been watching the CKD situation carefully, and now that we have more or less created an army of craftsmen, more CKD models will happen soon and we will share our plans on the same,” Soni said.

The Indian luxury car market is close to about 40,000 units per year. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are the top three players, followed by Volvo and JLR. Lexus, as of now, is a distant sixth but has the potential to rise up the ranks.

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First published on: 16-01-2023 at 02:50 IST