It's just been five years since Lexus entered the Indian market and in such a short time, the Japanese auto maker has carved a name for itself in the hyper-competitive luxury car market. Carrying the mantle for the company is the ‘Made in India’ ES 300h that has, in fact, etched a niche for itself. This is why the launch of the new-look Lexus ES 300h has buyers excited with its promise of uncompromising luxury, service, and a higher ideal.
Being the only manufacturer with a hybrid only line-up, Lexus has always been a leader when it comes to bringing a tangible change in the way we treat nature and care about the environment. In spite of its cars having highly efficient hybrid powertrains, the luxury automaker goes a step further and actually plants trees after each sale so as to offset each car’s lifetime carbon footprint.
So, what is it that drives this passion to perform, desire to deliver, and a charm that’s addictive? I had the opportunity to chat with PB Venugopal, President of Lexus India, to unravel the secrets of the brand’s ability to enamour India’s growing luxury segment. Venugopal has been instrumental in driving the brand’s growth in India, while also fuelling its presence on digital platforms during the leaner, pandemic months.
A living room on wheels
Lexus does well to serenade its customers in the Guest Experience Centers, where a large section of customers, otherwise acclimatised with German sedans, find their nuances. In fact, Venugopal tells us that a new Guest Experience Center in Vile Parle in Mumbai is expected to crop up soon, so that maximum city folk can access and immerse themselves in the magic of the brand. “Most of our guests tell us that the inside of a Lexus is like being in a living room. They enjoy its comfort even in the middle of a traffic jam.” A lot of this should be attributed to the way Lexus cars are made. “I do not call the making of a Lexus a manufacturing process. Instead, it’s craftsmanship,” says Venugopal. “We have Takumi craftsmen, who are master craftsmen. They hone their skills by going through hours of fine-tuning and mastering a process."
Imagined in Japan, Made in India
“Our parent company holds skill levels of the teams working on the cars at a high priority. They were impressed by the technicians we have in India, who are directly trained by the Takumi master craftsmen in Japan. This is why we take pride in supporting the government’s decision of Skill India and Make in India,” says Venugopal. The company has even tailored the suspension in the Indian models to suit our driving conditions. A testing track in Japan has been specially developed to simulate road conditions from across the globe. It’s called the Shimoyama Racing Track and ensures that there is no compromise in the guest experience.
A lot of this stems from the customer-centric needs that are extremely important in the product development and support disciplines of Lexus. The manufacturing process includes some amount of localisation of parts and components. “We are always evaluating the further expansion of our local production,” says Venugopal.
What sets the new Lexus ES apart?
“The ES has been the most successful Lexus model in India. Since our Made in India move in January 2020, we have received a great response. The new ES 300h comes with a grille upgrade, which looks great with the L design. We have also modified the lights and the front portion of the vehicle,” says Venugopal. “More importantly, you will experience a change in the driving and suspension performance.
Exemplary after-sales support
Lexus recognised the needs of the HNIs, who form a large base of their target group, to have a single point of contact for support. “It goes beyond just sales,” says Venugopal. “We have a team of Lexus Relationship Managers and Care Managers, who coordinate with each other to develop an enriching, lifetime relationship with our guests. We recently launched the Lexus Life Program, a flexible solution that covers everything from warranty extensions, insurance, financial packages, and more. Depending on the needs of the guest, we bundle solutions under the program and offer it to them,” says Venugopal.
Customer service and exemplary support have always been the brand’s priority. What’s also important to note is the low cost-of-ownership of Lexus cars. “One of our customers reached out asking if we really serviced the car well because they felt the bill missed a zero. I know some guests who would get a small scratch and would worry about the costs they would have to incur. But when they actually received the bill, they were quite surprised, because the service was without compromise.”
8-year battery warranty
Lexus has even extended the warranty of the battery on the ES, which is now 8 years. The famed Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) battery that is the heart of the Lexus ES was vouched for strongly by the brand on World Nature Conservation Day. This move goes on to show the brand’s commitment to the mission of cleaning up the atmosphere with lower emission batteries. Only a few months ago, Lexus announced that they had sold a total of 2 million hybrid vehicles worldwide.
The future of Lexus in India
“In India, the luxury car market has a V-shaped recovery curve, especially because of the smaller cars. The luxury car market reached its highest peak in 2018-19. Post that, there was a dip because of the pandemic. We believe the luxury market will have a more gradual and W-shaped recovery. Based on the rate of vaccination, we could well see the preponement of the recovery,” says Venugopal.
Lexus is presently focussing on the top 7 cities in India. He believes that in the mid-to-long-term horizon India continues being a great market for Lexus. “We believe in a strong forecast and that the Indian luxury car market has great potential,” says Venugopal in closing.
“Our guests are looking for responsible luxury and this is something that seems to be growing exponentially in the wake of the pandemic. Today, nearly 70 per cent of our sales are attributed to the Lexus ES being a self-charging hybrid-electric. This has become a key purchase reason. We also help our guests become carbon-neutral by associating with Grow-Trees.com who plants trees in Bengaluru, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, to offset each car’s lifetime carbon emissions. Each guest is given a certificate too. Lexus is introducing a hybrid driving tool that measures how much of the electric motor is employed at the time of a test drive. A rough estimation shows that nearly 60 per cent of most guests' driving time is on the electric motor. Globally, Lexus hybrids have reduced 19 million tonnes of carbon footprint. This goes to prove why a typical Lexus customer is one who enjoys responsible and sustainable luxury. This, and the craftsmanship.
* A celebration of innovation
Lexus celebrates innovation and ideas among young Indians too, with the Lexus Design Awards India. The awards welcome both automobile and non-automobile designers and celebrate them. Among recent winners was a designer who created a robotic sewage cleaning system that eliminates the risks that manual sewage cleaners have to undergo.
* Relationships forged long after-sales
Lexus has set a high standard for customer-centricity, with special attention to the after-sales support that is delivered to guests. There are several instances when guests drop in at Guest Experience Centers to catch up with their Relationship Managers, over a cup of coffee. While the pandemic made several brands adopt a digital-first approach, at Lexus we are creating a ‘phygital’ experience, which is bringing the human touch even to our digital touchpoints. The Emotional Quotient is of key importance."