Minicars And Microcars: How Small Could Lexus Go?

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The Lexus LF-SA Concept that made a first appearance this past month at the Geneva Motor Show definitely pushes the brand into unexpected design territory—and down to an unexpectedly small size.

At just 136 inches long, 67 inches wide, and 56 inches high, the concept that Lexus described as “an ultra-compact, sub-B-segment, urban 2+2” is nearly a foot shorter in overall length than the base 2015 MINI Cooper, yet it’s a full 20 inches longer than the 2016 Smart Fortwo. Exterior styling is about as bold as bold can be, while the interior brings a fresh take at adjustability, with a fixed driver’s seat yet widely adjustable steering wheel and pedals.

We and other outlets reported that this is strictly a design study, and speculated that Lexus was thinking about entering the minicar market in some years. Yet there's no need to bring other minicar efforts like the Scion iQ too close to mind; as Lexus International executive vice president Mark Templin recently clarified to us, the LF-SA is purely a futurist design exercise for the brand.

“We never intended to build a car that small, and we don’t plan to build a car that small right now,” explained Templin.

The executive elaborated in a recent interview at the New York Auto Show that the LF-SA is more of an ‘issues’ concept—looking at the issue of how, as population density and congestion grows to be a more serious concern and vehicles downsize to fit in, Lexus could preserve its identity 25 years into that smaller future (the Lexus brand is 25 years old this year).

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A concept for urban density

“It’s a pretty consistent phenomenon that’s happening everywhere—that these cities will become more congested and traffic’s going to be bad, and parking’s going to be bad, and maneuvering cars in all these cities is going to be difficult,” said Templin. “So there’s going to be a trend to downsize in cities...and we just started exploring, and asked what does that look like? What would that mean to Lexus, long-term, big-picture?”

Toyota i-Road electric urban mobility vehicle

Toyota i-Road electric urban mobility vehicle

Could Lexus ever get so small as to embrace innovative one- or two-person designs, like the Toyota i-Road, especially with the densest urban centers in mind? Templin wouldn’t commit to answer—we are talking about decades into the future, after all—but he did say that it’s his responsibility in his role of managing officer of Toyota Motor Corporation (not the U.S. sales arm, Toyota Motor Sales) to look at all aspects of transportation, not just the traditional passenger vehicle.

“I think that sometime in our lifetimes—probably not during my career but during our lifetimes—we’re going to see a lot of radical thinking like that,” Templin said. “Because if you watch all the trends, the population growth, and you see what’s going to happen in cities, other alternatives in transportation are going to come."

“Those kinds of things are going to be important...but that’s a long-term vision.”

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