Q&A: Yoshihiro Sawa, President of Lexus International



Fresh from unveiling the LF-30 concept car, the division’s global boss tells us he still expects to be pestered about battery-powered cars

Tokyo, Japan — Just hours after unveiling the Lexus LF-30 Electrified, Yoshihiro Sawa sat down to take questions from the press. CarBuyer was there to fire off a few at the president of Lexus International…

CarBuyer: Can you tell us why you decided to do a car in this shape and not some kind of sports car or maybe crossover?

Yoshihiro Sawa: The Tokyo motor show is always some of a showcase, which is different from other shows, so that is why we tried to provide such a future look with our car. We believe the design, packaging, or the functional element will be completely different to the existing, current vehicles. With that shape — maybe you didn’t sit inside, I guess — the interior is very spacious, but the outside is really compact. And because the autonomous and pre-collision systems will prevent accidents, the overhang becomes shorter and shorter, and the weight distribution, better and better.

The four wheel control system provides another level of driving fun. I think eventually, around the year 2030, vehicles’ proportions or interior space could be quite different. That was what we wanted to introduce.

CarBuyer: Before today were people asking you all the time, “When is Lexus going to do an electric car?” Did you get a lot of that?

Yoshihiro Sawa: Oh yeah, many times. But always, I say that we are the pioneers of electrification. EVs are not the only solution, because hybrids are a broader solution, and we’ve already reduced a huge amount of emissions. So far, EVs’ contribution to CO2 reduction is smaller than our hybrids’. Also, EVs require charging posts and electricity as well, so some cities or nations are ready for them, but others are not ready yet. We are selling our vehicles in more than 90 countries, and only a few are ready for EVs, but for the rest of the world, a hybrid or PHEV is the better solution.

We try to provide all kinds of electrified powertrain, assuming future market or environmental conditions. That is our philosophy which is a little different, but everybody says, ‘Where is your EV?’ We don’t worry about so many things, because we’ve already fulfilled our CAFE issues (the strict new CO2 fleet emissions requirements that will be enforced in 2021). On top of that, by utilising our battery control technology, our powertrain technology and our motor production technology, we have an advantage.

CarBuyer: So today you finally have your electric car and people will stop asking you about it, but…

Yoshihiro Sawa: Probably, they will continue. I think hybrid technology is more sophisticated than for a pure EV, because we have to control the engine and the two motors together, in a real-time condition, which requires a lot of technology and experience. Again, we have our control unit technology, motor production technology, and battery management technology. These three are very important, especially battery life technology.

As you know, in our hybrids, the battery lasts really long. But the current EV models, after five years, three years, battery life is suddenly getting worse. Now the pure EV’s used car price becomes a problem. You have to replace the batteries, and that requires a huge amount of money. We have to be very careful. Our battery management technology, maybe, could extend an EV’s battery life. So, I think that kind of technology is something gradually people will notice and go, “Ah, that’s why Lexus or Toyota is doing it this way.” But, at this moment, it’s really hard to prove it.

CarBuyer: What I really wanted to ask is, when you look at the Lexus product range today, do you see any gaps that you would like to fill?

Yoshihiro Sawa: I think now we have a very comfortable lineup. If we put some vehicles in between (current models), I think each vehicles’ differentiation becomes more difficult. In Lexus’ case, each model has its own style or execution, not only for the exterior but also for the interior. But the other luxury brands, they have the same kind of design theme all through the line-up. The philosophy is totally different. If we (did that) we would lose our brand image. So, when we add some new vehicle we have to be very careful. Even though its size is in between, the style has to be very different.

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Leow Julen
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.