Lexus hints at its electric future with the LF-30 concept car. The brains behind it tell us why it looks and drives like nothing else out there
TOKYO, JAPAN — If the Lexus LF-30 Electrified looks like nothing on earth, that’s because it is like nothing on earth. The concept car rolled by itself onto the stage at the Tokyo motor show to signal its maker’s plans for its upcoming battery-powered cars: they will be autonomous, spacious and agile.
The car’s name is an allusion to the Lexus brand’s age. “The starting point was knowing that we just celebrated our 30 years of existence, so what do the next 30 years possibly hold for us?” says Ian Cartbiano, the head of Lexus’ European styling centre in the south of France, where work on the concert car started 15 months ago. “I really consider the LF-30 Electrified the future of performance luxury vehicles.”
The “performance” part is a given. The LF-30 has four electric motors, giving it a total of 544 horsepower and the ability to hit 100km/h in 3.8 seconds. It weighs 2.4 tonnes and the 110kWh battery gives it a projected range of 500km.
But while most electric cars have one motor, or a motor at each axle, Lexus gave the LF-30 four separate motors for a number of reasons. Decentralising the power means there’s no motor compartment, which in turn creates a roomy cabin and a car that looks like nothing else from Lexus.
“We don’t have to have a traditionally big hood. We actually are showing power coming from the wheels,” Mr Cartabiano says. “So from all four wheels, the power flows into the body, and it creates this authentic, agile, powerful stance.”
Lexus says in-wheel motors provide unprecedented amounts of control. The LF-30 can speed up or slow down its wheels individually; doing the same with our legs is what allows humans to dance.
A steer-by-wire system and individual wheel control means the car will offer more stability under braking, precise yaw control and a tighter turning radius than a conventional car is able to. Turning the steering wheel itself, which was inspired by tazuna (the Japanese word for a horse’s reins), will activate the brakes, motors and suspension to make the LF-30 respond to the driver.
The Lexus shorthand for these abilities is Advanced Posture Control, says Takashi Watanabe, the engineer in charge of the development of electrified vehicles at Lexus International. He compares the car’s agility to that of a predator hunting down its prey, meaning its movements are focused, finely controlled and immediate.
The car’s design reflects its unconventional construction, too. There is no grille because there is no engine bay to cool. Instead, air intakes at the sides feed cooling air to the in-wheel motors, while the entire car reflects the spindle-shaped grilles of current Lexus models.
“We actually made the spindle the core architecture for the vehicle, so it ceases to be a traditional grille and it actually becomes the entire essence of the vehicle, flowing from the front, through the car all the way to the rear,” Mr Cartabiano says.
Up close, the LF-30 is surprisingly compact, but the interior looks as if it seats four in comfort.
“Using the large aperture of what we call the glider doors, we have a very exciting ingress-egress,” Mr Cartabiano says. “But what’s really great about this car is, the interior is really sporty but also really roomy, and every passenger gets a unique driving and seating experience.”
Lexus currently doesn’t sell a dedicated battery-electric vehicle (BEV), but will show its first such car in November. That goes on sale next year, and sometime in the early 2020s (we’re guessing 2022), the brand will sell its first plug-in hybrid car and its first dedicated BEV. By 2025, Toyota and Lexus intend to have 10 BEVs in showrooms between them.
But something as wild as the LF-30 Electrified might not appear before 2030, hints Yoshihiro Sawa, the president of Lexus International. He tells us that Lexus has to be “very careful” about putting BEVs on the road, because it wants to make sure their batteries last as long as those in the brand’s current hybrid cars, which often last the lifetime of the vehicle.
Given that Lexus routinely tops quality and durability surveys, the brand has a reputation for reliability to protect. The LF-30 Electrified might be an unprecedented car, but some things are sacred at Lexus.
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