Near the end of May 1989, Lexus invited automotive writers Pat Bedard from Car and Driver, Peter Egan from Road and Track, Jeff Karr from Motor Trend, Kevin Smith from Automobile, Richard Stepler from Popular Science, Tony Swan from Popular Mechanics, and Alex Taylor from Fortune to test drive the LS400 on the Autobahn in Germany. We also invited two freelance writers, Brock Yates and Denise McCluggage, who would write stories for Glamour, Autoweek, and Sports Car Illustrated.
These were experienced, well-respected writers who would not be easily sold on hype. Their impressions of the LS400 would appear on newsstands in August of the September issues of their magazines. The writers were very much aware that their articles about the LS400 would be carefully reviewed by Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac, and Lincoln. These competitors spent large amounts of advertising dollars in their magazines.
The German press corps learned about the long-lead test drive. They tracked, photographed, and harassed us. I was once riding with Kevin Smith of Automobile Magazine, cruising at a comfortable 140 mph, when a Mercedes passed us with a photographer in the passenger seat taking pictures.
The reaction to the car was positive but prudent. The writers all agreed that the LS400 was a world-class luxury car. McCluggage told one uninvited German writer, “You’re going to have to get used to the fact that there is a third player in the game.”
Bedard of Car and Driver was an Indianapolis 500 driver. He got the LS400 up to 154 mph and commented that there was “more left in the engine.”
Jeff Karr of Motor Trend stated, “I’ve said things about this car that I’ve never said about any other car. It’s embarrassing.”
But there were also concerns. Bedard had already driven the Infiniti Q45 and said, “On first impression, the Infiniti will impress more.” The writers also made note of the “uptight, obtrusive grille and generally derivative styling” and the “numbness feel in the near-center steering.”
We made a good first impression. Now our concern would need to shift to the cars arriving for sale in September. These same writers would drive these cars. We needed to be absolutely certain the level of quality was the same on these cars as the European long-lead cars or Lexus would be called out for cheating. Our competitors would be watching closely, and the automotive press would not want to be accused of being gullible. All we could do was wait nervously for the stories to appear in print. Even as we waited, I knew I could trust God’s plan, because His was better than mine. Learn more about God’s perfect plan in the God of Hope book.
“The gullible believe anything they are told: the prudent sift and weigh every word.” Proverbs 14:15 (MSG)
Back home in the U.S. the automotive press was writing headlines and stories using the images of charging brigades, gunfights, and bare-knuckled fist fights to describe what was happening in the highly competitive luxury car market.
(To be continued in “The Luxury Car Wars”)