July/August 2012 | Newsletter #4

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Meet Dr. RX

Takayuki Katsuda - Chief Engineer

Takayuki Katsuda – Lexus RX Chief Engineer

Given the Lexus RX’s popularity among premium-minded drivers, you’d expect the latest RX 350 and RX 450h to fall squarely into the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category.

However, that’s not how RX Chief Engineer Takayuki Katsuda sees it, which explains a lot about why the 2013 RX came out with more then a few enhancements this spring. Here’s how the man behind the 2013 RX sees a few other things:

The RX’s heritage: “There’s always a need to refresh any car, to maintain interest,” he says. “But you also have to maintain the car’s herit¬age. The RX has a good heritage. I still see the first-generation cars coming to U.S. dealer¬ships [for scheduled service]. Owners love the RX’s reliability. Keeping that owner connection is a high priority.”

The 2022 RX: Katsuda San tells us he’s already thinking about model year 2022, and that he has some predictions about the 2022 RX’s vehicle class. “I think the generic phrase ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’ will be replaced by ‘Cross¬over Utility Vehicle,’” says Katsuda. “The CUV will be more than an SUV. It will be functional, stylish, and, of course, it will be eco-friendly. The 2022 RX will be all of those things.”

Hidden “gifts” for Lexus owners: Katsuda has created a “hidden space” at the front of the 2013 RX console for the owner’s manual (or anything else 2013 RX drivers would like to put there). “That’s an extra present to RX owners from me,” he says with a smile.
Spy novels: He loves them—James Bond novels especially.

Obsessing over quality: To say Katsuda is obsessed with quality is putting it mildly. For the last five years, he’s focused on perfection to the point that, at both the Kyushu, Japan and Cambridge, Canada plants, RX assembly teams have imposed their own “extreme qual¬ity” measures on top of Lexus’ already legend¬ary standards.

Obsessing over handling: One of the biggest 2013 RX changes—increased body rigidity— reflects Katsuda’s other obsession—vehicle response. “My intention is for a more linear, natural, confident performance experience, one that appeals
to the customer’s driving sense, so that when a turn is initiated, the driver’s wish is smoothly translated into action, with
no delay. Great body rigidity is absolutely cen¬tral to that idea,” explains Katsuda.

(This RX rigidity, by the way, comes partially from a new spot-welding regime that puts many more welds into any given bodywork section).

Win a Car Kit

Register to Win!

Our generous sponsor Lexus of North Shore has given the club some prizes to give away!

I have 3 Meguiars “new car kits” and 1 professional vehicle valet to give away – all you have to do to be in the draw is register with the club (all I need is your name, address and phone number), and answer this simple question! “What is the phone number for Lexus of North Shore?” Submit your entries to lucas@lexusownersclub.co.nz or phone them through to Lucas on 09 442 3694. The winners will be drawn on the 7th of September!

The Record Breakers

Lexus Record BreakersThis is a tale of a supercar, three passionate men, and a record-setting lap—all played out on perhaps the most challenging motor circuit in the world. The supercar is, of course, the Lexus LFA, and the men are Lexus Chief Engineer, Tanahashi Haruhiko; development supervisor, Naoaki Ito; and test driver, Akira Iida. And the record? Why that would be last September’s LFA lap time of 7 minutes, 14 seconds around the north loop of Germany’s legendary Nürburgring racing circuit. But that’s the end of this story—so let’s start at the beginning.

The north loop, or Nordshleife, is a unique motor sports venue—a dense concentration of driving challenges that auto manufacturers use to test their performance cars. Over the years, the top, power-oriented automakers have been tracking their lap times in a quiet game of one-upmanship—and everyone closely watches each other’s results.

It’s here that the team has been fine-tuning the LFA every six months since 2004, and it’s here that the team has recently been developing the LFA into a new perfor¬mance package—The Nürburgring Package, available this year—in which the tires, suspension, and aerodynamics are all enhanced.

However, while justifiably proud of his team and the LFA’s evolution, Tanahashi has been uncomfortable with a focus on breaking records. “Many people judge vehicles purely on records,” he explains. “But that is not how Lexus engineers think.” For Tanahashi, tuning the LFA at Nürburgring was about furthering his goal of a making a genuinely fun-to-drive supercar.

Akira Iida’s thinking, however, is different. Iida is a pro driver, and his world centers on proving himself and his vehicle—against the clock and against other drivers. Sitting spiritually between Tanahashi’s engineering viewpoint and Iida’s competitive spirit is Naoaki Ito, leader of the LFA technical development team and supervisor of the Nürburgring tests. His view strikes the balance: “The LFA has tremendous potential that is unimaginable to some,” he says. “And it’s important to realize that we developed the LFA with an emphasis on overall sensual performance, not just attacking a lap record. Neverthe¬less, the performance of the new package would be the result of continual efforts from all of our tests, and we wanted to confirm this ability at least once.”

So for Ito, beating the 7:20 mark in the waning minutes of the team’s 2011 Nürburgring testing would be a good indicator, but not an all-consuming target. There were too many variables over which they had no control, from temperature and humidity to the presence of other test vehicles on the circuit.

But Iida, the driver, saw this as a prime opportu¬nity—the last one for six months—to send shockwaves through the auto world, and so he took the bold step of suggesting to Chief Engineer Tanahashi that he change his driving approach. Iida’s plan: activate Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Man¬agement (VDIM) on his test run. This was a bold move. Conventional wisdom holds that VDIM, while excellent for normal driving, is an impediment to maximizing a car’s performance on a motor racing circuit. For this reason, enthusiasts typically disable it when driving on a track. But Iida’s plan was to use the system to his advantage.

His reasoning was sound, though—the LFA’s VDIM is the most sophisticated Lexus has ever developed. And after all, the Nürburgring is essentially a collection of streets and highways—precisely what the technology was made for.

And, as the auto world now knows, Iida’s gamble worked. The LFA lapped the Nordshleife in a blistering 7:14, shaving six seconds off the previous mark. For Iida, behind the wheel, the performance represented all he’d hoped for.

“I just felt a sense of unity with the car,” he says. “I was concentrating so hard, I didn’t check the time until the final straight. Then, when I saw it, I started crying with happiness and clapping—not for me, but for the car, and for what we had achieved together. When I reached the team, they had tears of joy as well.”

Sponsored By
Lexus of North Shore
North Shore Toyota
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