Thursday, April 13, 2006

New York 2006: Lexus LS600hL

"It is a vehicle as efficient and familiar as it is indulgent and advanced, a far-reaching concept, fully developed and fully realized. It is simply in a class by itself."
-Lexus Group VP & GM, Bob Carter
First stop at the New York Auto Show this morning was Lexus' press conference in the Jacob Javits Center's Galleria. The room was darkened and there were hundreds of seats in place for the gathered media. Most of them were empty when I walked in, so I took a spot on the center aisle in the middle of the room. The other attendees were, for the most part, still chatting with each other along the outskirts of the seating area.

At the far end was a large, simple stage where the action would soon be taking place. A screen hung from its roof. Ambient electronica music played in the background, and gradually the seats filled up. A voice would periodically announce the number of minutes left until "the show" began. Finally, the lights dimmed. The Lexus logo popped onscreen, and the staged glowed blue. Showtime.

Lexus Group Vice President and GM Bob Carter stolled onstage and opened his comments with a salute to New York, calling it a city of "unparalleled prestige" and indicating that that was precisely why Lexus had chosen NYC to unveil their new luxury hybrid sedan.

He gave a brief review of the first three appearances of the new LS460 sedan at Tokyo, Detroit, and Geneva, and said that the theme that had been established with the new LS at those shows was that lexus "wanted to develop an automobile that our customers would say is simply the 'World's Best.' "

He acknowledged that that is a lofty goal, indeed, and I would have to agree. Mercedes-Benz's all-new S-Class, the recently revised BMW 7-Series, and the spectacular Audi A8 have set the bar very high. The Lexus LS sedans, while absolutely excellent, had been, to this point, playing follow the leader with the Germans. Based on what Carter said next, those days are over.

Saying that the introduction of the new LS was an emphatic statement from the company, Carter said that this car, the LS hybrid, was the exclamation point: a car that "explored the outer reaches of performance, style and technology. A vehicle as efficient and familiar as it is indulgent and advanced."

And with that, he summoned the Lexus LS600hL, a car he says is "in a class by itself."

The house lights were shut off. The lower part of the stage wall lifted up, revealing an illuminated ramp from which a pair of headlights glowered at the assembled media.

As the car pulled out onto the stage, the lights came up, and it began rotating on a turntable. Carter walked back, stating, "Welcome to the new world of prestige luxury."

The LS hybrid (LS600hL is a bit of a mouthful, no?) is the first be powered by a full hybrid V8. Carter formally announced that all Lexus hybrid powertrains would be known by the marketing name "Lexus Hybrid Drive" going forward.

Driven by a 5.0L direct-injection gasoline V8 which is augmented by high-output electric motors and a new high-capacity battery, the LS hybrid produces over 430 horsepower. This is, Carter pointed out, comparable to the output Mercedes, BMW, and Audi get from their 12-cylinder engines. Power is put to the ground through a full-time all-wheel-drive system connected to a 2-stage continuously variable transmission.

Up next was a laundry list of the available luxury and safety features. Some highlights:
  • The Advanced Pre-Collision System - Two small cameras are mounted in front, which, with radar assistance, can detect large metallic objects (like other cars) or smaller, non-metallic objects (like people). These work in conjunction with a third steering-column-mounted camera that watches the driver's face.

    If camera 3 sees that the driver is not looking at the road and determines that the likelihood of a collision is high, the system springs into action. First, it sounds an audible warning. Next, it can start applying the brakes on its own. Finally, the system can reprogram the car's steering ratio on the fly to allow for the quickest response possible if the driver tries to avoid the obstruction.

    While this is all happening, it activates the seat belt pre-tensioners and prepares the braking system to apply maximum force when the driver hits that pedal. Amazing.
  • The LS hybrid will be available only in long-wheelbase configuration in North America. One of the benefits of this is an optional right rear passenger seat that reclines. With a footrest. And integrated massage. It;s like having one of those Sharper Image or Brookstone chairs in the car.
  • Parallel Park Assist - It works like this: you pull up to a parking space and you press a button. The car then parks itself. I guess part of the Driver's Ed exam just became completely obsolete.
  • Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) rating - The Lexus LS600hL has 70% cleaner emissions than its most efficient competitor.
After listing a few more options and innovations, Bob Carter brought the car's Chief Engineer, Moritaka Yoshida, onstage with him, and ended the conference.

Bob Carter (right) & Moritaka Yoshida (left) with the Lexus LS600hL

A technological tour de force. Gorgeous to behold. The new Lexus LS, and its flagship hybrid in particular, send a message to the company's German competitors that they are no longer following in their footsteps.

Instead, they have decided to take the lead themselves.

Here are some more publicity photos of the LS600hL, as provided by Lexus. Also, please note that pricing, performance, and fuel economy figures have not yet been made available.

Photos by Alex Nunez and Lexus