If youre like us, you have wondered just what benefit Toyota gets from spending hundreds of millions of dollars to be smacked around by Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault in Formula One. Sell more Priuses perhaps? Doubt it.
Well, wonder no more: Toyota dropped the Lexus LF-A sports car concept on the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A sports car from stodgy old Lexus? Yup. And, as we tend to say around here, but wait, theres more: The company claims a strong link between the concept and its move in to Formula One.
Is that for real or just public relations BS?
Toyota insists its for real. The company began testing its F1 prototypes in 2001 and entered the fray in 2002. Since the F1 involvement began, rumors have floated around the company was working on a two-seat road car, and one that might have supercar aspirations. And indeed Toyota designers and engineers have dreamed about doing a car such as the LF-A since the F1 programs launch. They say today it is not so much that members of the F1 team actually spun wrenches putting together the concept car, but more that F1s image the notion of competing in and learning from the worlds highest form of motorsport will be reflected in the show car.
So what exactly is the LF-A?
It is a two-seat concept Lexus hopes will raise the worldwide awareness of what used to be an American-only nameplate. In addition to the United States, the Lexus name is now used in Europe and is being introduced in home-market Japan. LF-A has another mission as well. Lexus says the car points at the luxury brands future styling direction, which the company refers to as L-Finesse. The L-Finesse theme will become evident in the production version of the GS, shown as a concept at last years Detroit auto show (AW, Jan. 19, 2004).
L-Finesse will be further driven home in a new IS, due in a year, and an all-new LS sedan, due in about a year and a half.
L-Finesse is simplicity and elegance, says Toyota executive vice president Jim Press. He says the exotic LF-A is worthy of the companys F1 commitment, and wants you to think of it as a good indication of how Lexus might do a sports car.
Wahei Hirai, president of Toyotas European design center, said the idea behind L-Finesse is to introduce a fundamental shift in Lexus design. The intention is to add some spark to Lexus admittedly staid styling, with designs that are uncluttered and void of extraneous elements.
Inside and out the focus is to avoid exaggeration, Hirai says, and to prioritize understated luxury that is intriguing, subtle and seamless.
Actual work on the LF-A began a year ago, while the final shape you see here was finalized just two months ago. The show car itself is two inches shorter than a Porsche 911 with a nine-inch-longer wheelbase. At 48 inches high, it is about the same height as a Ferrari F430; at 73.2 inches wide, it splits the difference between the Mercedes-Benz SL55 and the Aston Martin DB9.
The minimalist approach is seen inside, too. There are few switches and knobs on the dash and center console, for example. There is no evidence of anything like those one-knob-controls-it-all contraptions such as BMWs iDrive or Audis MMI.
Will LF-A happen as a production car? Sources say there are a lot of people inside the company who want it to, and a lot of people inside the company who dont. Officially Toyota says the car is being carefully considered for production; that if it is produced, the street car will look a lot like the concept.
Of this much were pretty sure: Our spy shooters and moles say the LF-A gives strong hints about a production sports car, which weve captured flying around the N1/4rburgring in tests (Dec. 27, 2004). Sources tell us a production version of either the next Supra (possibly called TXS) or a Lexus sports car, depending on which Toyota decides to build, might be shown at the Tokyo show this fall before going on sale a year later.
Show-car and production-car specs are closely guarded secrets. Toyota wont give up suspension details, nor will it even say which end of the car the engine sits in, though further digging indicates its probably a mid-engine car.
The rumors alone are enough to get you excited, though: Power might be in the 500-hp range from a V10 engine of less than 5.0 liters of displacement. A V8 might be used if F1 rule changes, set for 2006, reflect that. The target weight is said to be less than 3000 pounds, with a top speed upward of 190 mph.
Thats all well and good. Of course, none of it means jack if Toyota doesnt build the car, though insiders strongly hint it will. Keep your eyes on the Detroit show and the Tokyo show this fall.
info from lexus:
Lexus Unveils 500-Plus Horsepower, 200 MPH Sports Car Concept
at the 2005 North American International Auto Show
DETROIT, January 9, 2005 Lexus unveiled the LF-A sports car concept at a press conference today at the 2005 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). The two-seat concept blends the performance of an exotic sports car with the luxury refinements of a Lexus. Designed to express a bold new direction in styling for the Lexus brand, the LF-A concept is a vision closely aligned with the companys Formula One commitment to achieving superiority among its rivals in speed, quickness, agility and reliability.
The Lexus LF-A is like no sports car we have ever built or even imagined, said Jim Press, Toyota Motor Sales executive vice president and COO. Currently only a concept, it is a realistic vision of how we might address the boundaries that define the exotic sports car landscape.
The Lexus LF-A concept features an engine capable of developing more than 500 horsepower from a displacement of less than five liters. With a combination of optimum gearing, weight and aerodynamics, the LF-A concept would produce a top speed in the neighborhood of 200 miles per hour.
The LF-A is theoretically developed to run a parallel course to our companys efforts in Formula One racing, added Press. It would probably feature a powertrain and drivetrain configuration strongly influenced by whatever is being used in competition at the time.
Inside, the LF-A is designed as a luxury high-speed capsule that blends extravagant comfort with precision operation. Although it is more than two inches shorter in length than the Porsche 911 Turbo, its wheelbase is nine inches longer.
At 48 inches, it is nearly identical in height to the Ferrari F430. And with a width of 73.2 inches, its splits the difference between the Mercedes Benz SL55 and the Aston Martin DB9.
While the LF-A makes a major statement in how Lexus would define exotic sports car performance, it was conceived to express the emergence of a new direction in styling for the Lexus brand, globally.
Over the last two years, a new styling philosophy that we call L-Finesse, has taken shape at Lexus Design, said Wahei Hirai, Toyota Motor Corporations global managing officer of design. What has emerged from this two-year journey is not just a new direction in philosophy. It is a new design langauge, based on the dynamism and inherent contrast between simplicity and elegance.
Simplicity, in form and function, reflects styling that is uncluttered and void of extraneous elements. Elegance, inside and out, avoids exaggeration by prioritizing understated luxury that is intriguing, subtle and seamless and slightly surprising. The key to the formula is how the visual contrast between simplicity and elegance creates a look that is dynamic, forceful and vigorous
The LF-A is a fundamental shift in both style and design for Lexus. The positioning and sizing of major components have been redefined and condensed. By taking an entirely different approach to proportion and packaging, designers have achieved the ultimate weight balance, so vital to high-speed handling and stability.
As a total package, the Lexus LF-A concept is a bold statement and a clear indication of the path that Lexus global design will follow in the near future.
Two-seat ultra-high performance coupe
Wheelbase: 103 inches / 2580 mm
Overall length: 173 inches / 4400 mm
Overall width: 73 inches / 1860 mm
Overall height: 48 inches / 1220 mm
Front tire size: 245/40R19
Rear tire size: 285/35R19