Lexus IS interview: Junichi Furuyama


Blog: Thanks for meeting with us, Mr Furuyama. As the New IS launches in the UK this month, please can you give us an indication of what British drivers can expect from the car?

Furuyama: Development of the New IS began as the Lexus brand was shifting towards a more emotional image. Positioned within the Lexus line-up as a sporty, entry saloon, the New IS required outstanding driving performance and styling. [It had] to be fun to drive.

Blog: How do you as an engineer define a car that is ‘fun to drive’?

Furuyama: A vehicle that responds faithfully to the driver’s intentions. [It should] start to turn as soon as you turn the steering wheel. As you accelerate rapidly, the vehicle faithfully follows your intended line. Actually, if the vehicle responds slightly better than the driver expects, this will surely turn enjoyment into delight. On the other hand, less responsive vehicles don’t turn straight away when you turn the steering wheel. You turn the wheel more because you think you haven’t turned it far enough. Then, when the vehicle eventually starts to turn, you end up rapidly trying to turn the wheel back again. This means you need to continually pay careful attention as you drive. You can’t really enjoy driving a car like that, can you? As the wheels turn, you can feel it through the steering wheel. As a result, the vehicle turns only as much as the driver wants to turn. You can feel this not just during high-speed driving but even as you start off during normal everyday driving. That’s what makes the New IS fun to drive.

Blog: What did it take to achieve this sort of responsiveness?

Furuyama: In order to make the New IS truly fun to drive, we took a radically different approach.

Blog: Can you be more specific about this change?

Furuyama: Normally, we would aim to thoroughly develop each aspect of basic performance, thinking that this would surely result in a vehicle which was fun to drive. The idea is to start with a firm base and build up from there like a pyramid, refining each individual aspect of performance. We believed that this would enable us to create a fun-to-drive vehicle. But unfortunately, we found that proceeding in this way would not necessarily result in a fun-to-drive vehicle. This time, we decided to start by focusing on developing a fun vehicle as the primary objective. Of course, there are other aspects of performance, but these could be incorporated in the later stages. In doing so, we turned our performance development priorities around completely.

Blog: What elements did you identify as being essential to that primary goal?

Furuyama: One of the most effective elements in enhancing the performance was the use of adhesives for the body. However, body adhesive is not easy to make and it requires an initial investment. This raised concerns within the company as to whether it was actually necessary to go that far. When we actually built and tested a prototype, the difference was absolutely clear.

Blog: How did you manage to convince the directors about the benefits of this procedure?

Furuyama: By getting [the key people] to actually drive it for themselves. Everybody who drove the vehicle, including the President, realised the value of this method and as a result permission to continue was given. This became a driving force that moved things along significantly within the company.

Blog: How did you go about benchmarking the performance parameters?

Furuyama: At the test course we often use, we brought in an IS and its competitors to compare their driving performance. We found that there are clear differences between vehicles that are fun to drive, and those that are not, so we proceeded to take notes on which specific aspects of performance were fun and which were not. We found that most people more or less agreed on which aspects were fun. We checked on the achievement of these aspects as milestones during development.

Blog: How do you feel about the handling and performance of the New IS?

Furuyama: In the final stages of development, while I was conducting routine performance checks on a circuit, I felt that the New IS seemed to be enticing me to press the accelerator further and further. It felt almost like I was engaged in a dialog with the vehicle. I had only intended to evaluate the performance by conducting the usual checks but, before I knew it, I was going all-out and working up a sweat. I was totally absorbed in driving the vehicle. That’s the moment when I realised we had actually succeeded in producing the kind of vehicle we had envisioned – a vehicle that responds faithfully to the driver’s intentions.

Blog: The car clearly had an effect on you, but what do you think it will do for potential buyers?

Furuyama: I [think] that this vehicle may be capable of surpassing the competitors and [achieve]significant breakthroughs. It has now been test-driven by journalists both in Japan and in other countries, and has received very positive evaluations. Having said that, if we want the customer to choose the New IS over the competitors, we must change everybody’s mindset so that we all agree that the IS truly epitomises fun-to-drive performance. In that sense, I want as many people as possible to actually experience the New IS for themselves – take hold of the steering wheel and press the accelerator pedal. This vehicle will move you, both physically and emotionally. We built the New IS to be a vehicle which is clearly ‘fun to drive’. Just take it for a drive. Then you’ll understand.

Blog: Thank you for your time, Mr Furuyama.

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