When you hear the phrase “luxury car” what’s the first brand that comes to mind? Is it a Chaparel? A Calibre? A Verone? A Vectre? An Alexis? Probably not because these aren’t actual luxury car brands, but they almost were.
In the early 1980s, Toyota began production on a new luxury line of cars to compete against Honda and Nissan, both of whom had recently unveiled their Acura and Infiniti premium brands. Because of export restraints enforced by the Japanese government, automakers in Japan discovered that it was much more profitable to export high-end cars with big sticker prices to the American market rather than their standard models.
Research into affluent American’s tastes and lifestyles began shortly after in Laguna Beach, CA, where a handful of Toyota designers set up shop for the next couple of years. Focus groups were convened, well-off Laguna Beachers were observed, and the designers soon thought they had an idea of what prosperous Americans wanted in a car.
Then in 1986, the company employed the help of their longtime advertising gurus, Saatchi & Saatchi, who were asked to cook up a name that was sumptuous, elegant, and flawless. Saatchi & Saatchi, known for being one of the best and bravest ad agencies on the planet, approached the job with a great deal of eagerness, creating a dedicated unit in their agency called Top One to roll-out the marketing campaign for Toyota. Top One scratched their heads for a few months and eventually decided to enlist the help of Lippincott & Marguiles, an image consulting firm, who were tasked with writing up a long list of luxurious-sounding appellations.
Why is it Called Lexus?
The consultants came up with 219 possible names and after a lot of heated discussion, the list was whittled down to five strong contenders: Chaparel, Calibre, Verone, Vectre, and Alexis. Lippincott & Marguiles, along with the Top One team, deliberated on these contenders for a while and eventually Alexis rose to the top of the list. But there was something not quite right about the name. It reminded too many of the marketing advisers of Alexis Carrington Colby, an iconic character from the very popular primetime soap opera Dynasty, who was wealthy and stylish, but not exactly the ideal namesake for the brand. So the consultants decided to make a few alterations. They lopped off the A, inserted a U instead of the I, and the brand that would soon come to represent automotive luxury and sophistication was born.
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Though this is the official story, there have been various unsupported theories over the years. Probably the most well-known is that Lexus is an acronym for “Luxury EXports to the US,” though there is little truth to this story, clever nonetheless. Other theories contend that the brand name is a combination of “luxury” and “elegance” or that it was developed from both the Latin word “luxus” and the French word “luxe” both meaning refinement or grace. But according to Toyota, this is all gossip and the brand name was invented whole-cloth by their marketing teams and only later came to embody all of the qualities we now associate with Lexus. Can you think of any other car names that are completely made up?
Travis McDonald is a professional freelance writer who creates content for a wide variety of clients. He received his bachelor’s in English from The University of Texas at Austin and his MFA in creative writing from Virginia Tech.