Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1394, (17 - 23 May 2018)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1394, (17 - 23 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The ‘Japanese Mercedes’ now in Egypt

Toyota Egypt decides to squeeze the luxury vehicle division into the supposedly recovering Egyptian market, writes Mohamed Abdel-Razek

Once you hear the word “Lexus”, many stereotypes might start coming to mind according to your life experiences and your knowledge about cars. It is widely known that Toyota is widely popular in the Arabian Gulf for dealing practically with the harsh atmosphere and terrain as well as offering a good dose of luxury. Lexus also made an impact on the American market in the early 1990s offering powerful engines, not far from the American muscle engines but way better in fuel consumption and well-built quality.

Since its founding in 1989, Lexus succeeded in Japan, the Gulf and America, but not as much in Europe and North Africa because when Toyota first decided to branch with Lexus, they maybe wanted to redefine or render their luxury silhouettes and display them away from the main Japanese brand Toyota, for many reasons. Toyota was playing in a league of its own a long time ago in the small and midsize practical cars, SUVs, 4X4s and pickup trucks. Toyota wasn’t known in the elite club of luxury cars, especially the big saloons and 4X4 as well as the SUVs. Toyota has the Camry and the Avalon as relatively affordable sedans offering a roomy comfortable cabin without compromising practicality, but at the end of the day they are a cheaper alternative for the German BMW3 series and the Mercedes C class, for drivers who don’t care much about the driving experience as much as practicality. So here comes the Camry and the Avalon, the two top sedan models Toyota offers as one of the best sedans you can get and drive for thousands of kilometres in comfort for years and not pay much in running cost.

Would a customer find it easy to digest spending a fortune on a Toyota which is more expensive than its competitive models from Mercedes or BMW? Certainly not. The officials in Toyota seemingly believed so as well. They also might’ve thought it may make no sense to establish new lines among the already existing ones in the Toyota catalogue. Lexus is the finest automobile Japanese hands could build. They believe it’s as well built as the top German brands if not better from different perspectives. And let us never forget why the Nissan GTR came out in the first place: to destroy the Porsche 911, but did they really manage to do so?

Getting back to Lexus, the Japanese Mercedes as they call it in the US and Europe. Why did the brand succeed in the US and the Arabian Gulf? Simply because in the Gulf, for example, Toyota and Nissan had built a solid reputation in the automobile market there, proving how reliable they are winning the challenge among Germany’s top brands like BMW and Mercedes, the two big companies which never targeted the Arabian sector at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the Gulf -- the early 1960s to the late 1990s -- a fact which opened the doors for the Japanese and the Americans to take advantage and build cars that suit the environment and lifestyle of the Arabian desert. For example, in the early days, German automobiles weren’t designed to cope with the harsh heat of the desert, causing the air conditioning systems to not work efficiently; some cars may have experienced overheating as well. Here came the winning point. Since the Japanese had already proven a point, they only needed to provide a luxurious line that could compete with the American touch of luxury and the build quality of the German cars. Sounds like a bespoke suit for a well off Arabian sheikh.

So Lexus simply needed no introduction in the Arabian Gulf even if the prices exceeded the German brands. And after succeeding in the Gulf and winning against the American flagships from Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet, the American market started paying attention to the new luxury brand and what specialties it might be offering.

What about the European and African markets? Maybe the two are the most difficult markets on the planet for a luxury car brand to succeed in, for many reasons. Starting with the toughest one, Europe, how could anyone convince a purely European blood to choose a Japanese brand over a mighty European car if both have equal price tags? In 2010 Lexus introduced a limited edition supercar named LFA. This car had 552bhp of power out of a 4.8L V10, capable of pushing it from 0 to 100kmh in 3.7s. The all-carbon fibre car had a top speed of 202mph, faster than the Aston Martin DBS at that time. The Japanese super car had lots of tech and innovation all finished with high quality, but how much it cost at that time compared to other big brands was totally unattractive. The LFA was priced at 340,000 British sterling, 130,000 more than the Ferrari 599, and twice the price of a Ferrari 458 Italia. The list of Porsche, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Maserati, Jaguar, Aston Martin and many other cars that come cheaper is endless.

Lexus wanted to make a point in the European market: “Yes, we can build a supercar that can compete with the finest build and innovative qualities of Europe”. Not many have the money to get the LFA, and even if they had, not many have brave hands to dig deep into their pockets and splash that amount of cash on a Japanese car. The people at Lexus knew that, which is why it was a limited production car. But was the reason behind the LFA to bring profits to the company? Absolutely not. Lexus was selling cars with 0 per cent profit margin. The main reason for transferring the idea to the European market was that any upcoming sports car produced by Lexus would share many of the experiences and build quality the company had put into the LFA, a fact which will play a big role in convincing the customer to compare the Lexus RC F, for example, with the BMW M4, or the Mercedes C63 AMG. Yet it will remain a difficult debate even if the Lexus comes at half price.

In Europe the situation is the same as the Gulf. Even in the Gulf the Europeans are easily finding a space for themselves right now, but for the Lexus it has been a tough challenge since 2010.

In Egypt, when you go all the way up to the luxury level, you hear about Mercedes S-Class and BMW7 series, and that’s it. Yes, there are other brands like Porsche Panamera, Jaguar XJ, Maserati Ghibli and Quattroporte and the SUVs like the BMWX5 and X6 and the Range Rover. Like the Toyota and Lexus in the Gulf, in Egypt, luxury cars are popularly defined in the names of Mercedes and BMW and the other European brands take the rest of the market.

Toyota Egypt decided from their own point of view that it was time for them to bring their luxury Lexus cars to the Egyptian market. That sounded great and why not? MTI already brought in Maserati officially to the Egyptian market in March 2017, and their offer made sense in one way or another. They offered their two models, the Ghibli and the Quattroporte, priced at LE3.5 and LE3.8 million, which are both cheaper than the BMW7 series 740 which comes at LE4.2 million and the S-Class which starts from LE4.8 million. That goes up to the top of the line, the 560 Maybach, which is priced at LE7 million. Lexus Egypt has brought in the LS model to “compete”, priced at LE5.7 million. The LS comes with a modest power unit, a 3.5L V6 engine that produces 359hp. The car looks so nice from the inside out with fine materials perfectly finished and crafted, but doesn’t have anything exceptional that you wouldn’t find in an S-Class, 7 series, or even a Porsche Panamera S which is unmatchable and comes for LE4.25 million.

The price for the LX model is not available on the Lexus Egypt Website until now, but it seems like it will exceed the LS price tag, which means it will be much more expensive than the Range Rover Vogue, and miles more expensive than the BMWX6 and X5. Anyway, welcome to Egypt “Japanese Mercedes”.

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