Lexus challenged its European design center to come up with a “Sub-B-Segment urban 2+2.” That is a very nice way to say “Make us a Buick Encore!” Small, tall, almost round cross-overy vehicles are the next cool segment and Lexus is tired of watching. Buick, Honda, Mazda, and other brands are all about to come out with vehicles to pursue this new segment. Buick is selling five thousand of these vehicles per month now as its Encore, and it is the leading seller in the entire Buick family. Serious stuff considering it was almost an accident that it was even created.
For those Lexus owners of V8 RCF luxury-performance cars or IS 350C grand touring convertibles, such a small, oddball type of vehicle may not make much sense. Similarly the RX 350 and larger Lexus buyer might not get it. That does not mean there is not a market for Lexus to exploit. Small premium has been in the sights of every car maker form Germany for about two decades. So far, none of the German brands have had a breakout success. Reviewers loved the BMW X1, but it is a total failure sales-wise in the US. BMW sold just under 900 units in February 2015, and that number is heading straight down from last year. Lexus is not going to wait for BMW or Audi to get it right.
This design study, if we are to believe Lexus, was more for a look and feel than actual production. Look for the US version to gain a rear +2 type seat area and for it to grow in all dimensions.
Lexus, and even GM, may not know why the Encore took off. Last year GM USA’s president Mark Reuss commented on the Buick Encore in an interview with Automobile magazine saying in part “I wish I could get in the same room all the journalists who told me …“Don’t bring over the Buick Encore…that’s a really bad idea.” Sometimes the reviewers (who all drive performance cars) don’t see the next big thing. Somebody at GM did, and Lexus may not know exactly why it is so big, but it knows how to put a spindle grill on an Encore. Sometimes good business is “Do what already works and figure out why later.”