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#54 – Chaos in Detroit

by | Nov 7, 2016


The Detroit Auto Show was opened to the press on January 11, 1989. Detroit wanted to compete with the world-class auto shows in Frankfurt, Paris, and Tokyo. In an attempt to draw European and Japanese manufacturers and global press to the show, it was renamed the Detroit International Auto Show. The Japanese and European manufacturers were allowed prime display space in the main Cobo Hall   that was previously reserved for only the domestic companies.


It was a big success with a huge global press corps of over 1,000 writers in attendance and 21 new products introduced from manufacturers around the world. GM Chairman Roger Smith and President Bob Stempel; Ford Chairman Don Petersen and Edsel Ford II; Chrysler Vice-Chairman Jerry Greenwald and President Bob Lutz; and Toyota’s Tatsuro Toyoda, heir apparent to replace Dr. Toyoda as President of Toyota, were all in attendance. The two stars of the show were the no-name LS400 and the Infiniti Q45.


The press’ reaction to the two cars was constrained. The American media were reluctant to upset the GM and Ford executives and were reserved in their praise. The German writers acted unimpressed and questioned Toyota’s luxury heritage. The Japanese press was supportive but restrained. Without driving the car, most of the press held back judgment, although some noted the strange “egg crate grille” on the LS400 and the “belt buckle” front end on the Infiniti.


Most of the press centered on the upcoming market battle to take place in 1989. Leon Mandel of Autoweek Magazine wrote, “I think that the Lexus with its competitor the Infiniti from Nissan is the number one automotive marketing story of 1989.” The Financial Times headlines read, “Toyota and Nissan are storming the last bastion of the world motor industry.” Our own David Wager, President of Saatchi & Saatchi Team One Advertising, the group that was to handle the Lexus advertising, added to the frenzy when he told the press, “The blood bath starts in about nine months from now. This is going to be hardball.” Gunter Kramer of BMW countered,” We’re not scared!”


The Lexus name appeared 29 times in the auto show display. We prepared to mask over all the Lexus names in case we failed to get a temporary injunction against Judge Edelstein’s order. On Thursday, January 5, 1989, Judge Emilia Kearse extended Judge Edelstein’s stay until January 30 or until the appeal arguments for the case could be heard. The judge ruled we could use the name in auto shows but not advertise Lexus nationally. TMC in Japan gave us until March 1, 1989, just 54 days, to get a reversal of Judge Edelstein’s ruling, or the name would need to be changed in order to start production in June.


We had already spent about $7 million on advertising the Lexus name. We had planned to spend another $3 million in January after introducing the LS400 in Detroit, but those plans had to be put on hold. Charles Faruki of the Smith & Schnacke law firm who represented Meade/LexisNexis menacingly stated, “We will be monitoring Toyota’s activities very closely.”


The media crowded around Perkins and McCurry, pressing them for answers. What were we going to do if we lost the appeal? When did we expect an answer? Did we have another name? It was chaotic. Both men were careful not to complain about the Meade Corporation, LexisNexis, or the judge. Instead, Jim Perkins bravely told the media, “Our most immediate job is to earn name recognition for Lexus. Unfortunately, we’re doing it the hard way.”


“Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech. Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.” Proverbs 4:24 (NLT) When we look to God, He guides us through every challenge we face. Read about His plan for us in the God of Hope book!


In Japan, the final push was being made at the Tahara plant to start producing the no-name LS400 in June of 1989. Tahara was the most advanced and highly computerized production facility in the company. In the quest for the highest quality possible, was Toyota taking the automation too far?
(To be continued in “Production Plus =Problems”)