The LF-Z concept shows just how far Lexus has to go in EVs

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Toyota is finally following the rest of its peers into making all-electric vehicles, and that now includes its luxury brand, Lexus. On Tuesday, the Japanese marque revealed the LF-Z Electrified concept car, which is all about charting the company’s course into an electric future.

Mind you, that future in Lexus’ eyes still involves a healthy mix of hybrid and even hydrogen-powered vehicles, as well as gas-only cars. The company said Tuesday it will introduce 20 new vehicles by 2025 and that just 10 of those will be all-electric, hybrid, or run on hydrogen.

Lexus did say it wants to reach carbon neutrality “throughout the lifecycle of its entire model lineup” but that its goal is to do this by 2050. Lexus also acknowledged Tuesday that the industry is entering a period of “once-in-a-century” transformation, which is… something, considering that Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda recently bucked the trend and said electric vehicles are “overhyped.”

But back to the concept car. It’s angular and futuristic, like many concepts tend to be. It’s shorter than most modern Lexus vehicles, and even features a sort of inversion of the company’s iconic (for better or worse) massive grille; instead of a gridded black diamond pattern, the flat silver bodywork traces a triangular shape down the nose. Tracking with the design that many modern EVs have adopted, the rear of the LF-Z features a continuous light bar that’s broken up only by the company’s reimagined wordmark. And there’s a panoramic glass roof stretching across the top of the vehicle.

The interior is more radical, even if it is familiar to anyone who’s looked at a lot of concept cars. The bucket seats have a distinct geometric look to them, and are surrounded by various lighting elements. It’s otherwise quite sparse, save for the cluster of screens that hug the steering wheel.

Being a concept car, the LZ-F is less about specs and more about ideas and what Lexus imagines it might do with its future vehicles. One idea Lexus is chewing on with this concept is something called “Direct4,” which is basically just a branded version of torque vectoring that would drive power to each wheel independently, improving grip in high-performance situations. At a more base level, Lexus says this concept car is designed to achieve “ideal balance and inertia” while driving thanks to optimal placement of the battery and motors.

(This all sounds sort of like Nissan’s new torque vectoring system that is coming to the Ariya EV, though it’s hard to say for sure without more details.)

Also, Lexus says the driver’s position and the screens were designed based on “the new concept of ‘Tazuna’” — which is Japanese for “rein.” The company describes this part of the concept car as such:

Inspired by the relationship between horse and rider, who communicate through a single rein, steering wheel-mounted switches and the vehicle’s head-up display have been highly coordinated to create a space in which various functions, such as the navigation system, audio system, and driving mode selection, can be performed while concentrating on driving and without movement of the driver’s line of sight or need to operate complicated switches.

This wouldn’t be a true concept car without some kind of artificial intelligence, and so of course Lexus has accounted for that here. But the company says AI would be used in the LZ-F in frankly pedestrian ways, like predicting what route a driver might take, or making restaurant reservations. Lexus believes this is a big step forward, though. “Such interactivity between AI and driver leads to a fruitful dialogue, thus improving the overall ownership and driving experience, adding color to the customer’s life as a lifestyle concierge,” the company writes.

There are a few other more grounded technological features, like a digital key that allows multiple people to access the car, or door handles that present themselves — both the kinds of things that are already increasingly common on modern electric vehicles. It, of course, has autonomous driving modes.

In fact, the more you look at the LZ-F, the more you may realize that it’s as much of a sign of what Lexus (and Toyota) have missed out on as it waited to chart this bold vision of the future of the brand — even if it is a far more realistic take than the drone-deploying LF-30 EV concept Lexus showed off in 2019.

The company has played a very conservative hand here at the beginning of what is, by its own admission, a massive transformation in the industry. And while there are certain advantages to that strategy — like not spending dozens of billions of dollars — the LZ-F is a good reminder of some of the disadvantages, too.

Lexus surely thinks it can do some of these things better than the rest of the competition no matter when it brings some of the LZ-F’s ideas to market. But if the future really is electric, Lexus will still find itself playing catch-up for the foreseeable future. The LZ-F is proof.

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