Interview and images by John Grafman
Photos of Lexus LC 500 Prototype and LC 500H
Kevin Hunter, President of Calty Design Research, is shedding some light on the development of the LF-LC and ultimately the production version, the LC 500. For over a decade, Kevin has been overseeing the Calty studio in Newport Beach, CA and the operations in San Francisco, CA., as well as in Ann Arbor, MI. His team of roughly 100 professionals is currently responsible for research, advanced and production design. We greatly appreciate Kevin and the Calty staff for setting aside time to discuss the Lexus flagship coupe.
AutoDesignO: The concept vehicle debuted in 2012, and unlike a lot of the other concept cars we see today, this actually really preceded the actual production vehicle. Is that something we’ll see more of?
Kevin Hunter: Well, I hope we can. That LC 500 was an unusual project for Calty in that we received, basically an assignment from Lexus Design, actually, Lexus International, to just make a beautiful coupe and that’s what we did. We started from zero, nothing. We had no package.
The LF-LC concept car was an unusual project for us in that we were given pretty much nothing to start with. It was our project to do what we wanted with. The only thing we were asked to do from Lexus Design in Japan was make a beautiful, luxury coupe. So we started laying out the package and the proportions that we thought would be best suited for that class and looking at the competitors and set up a nice, long dash to axle, got a nice stretch.
It was going to be a rear-drive car with a powerful V8 and really wanted to also create some innovation in the form language. The LC program was to put Lexus on a new path and looking at styling and looking at the overall energy of the brand, so the LC 500 really set Lexus in a new direction for excitement and boldness of design.
ADO: Can you tell us a little bit about the use of technology in the design process itself and different things that you’re using from rapid prototyping to design software and so forth?
KH: There’s really nothing so unique about the design process. Basically, we use the same tools that I think a lot of studios do; working in digital and physical environment, going back and forth.
ADO: On the design itself, it really stands apart from a lot of other Lexus vehicles, which is also unusual because a lot of vehicles have a tendency within a particular brand, of looking extremely similar. This actually takes a completely different path…
KH: So the good thing about Lexus brand is it’s a pretty young brand; a few decades old versus 100 years old. So we’re not really carrying a lot of historic baggage with us. So we feel confident that we can move in a new direction more frequently, we don’t have to carry over styling cues from the past. The one thing we are carrying over is the spindle grill, the front grill identity, and that’s our premium grill identity for Lexus brands, so you’ll see that on a lot of the cars, different iterations of it. We do try to evolve it in some sense so you’ll probably see it moving in some direction.
But overall, LC was supposed to be an innovative approach to a luxury coupe. And, while the proportions I would say are classic in a sense, again, of the long dash to axle and the driver being put basically in the center of the vehicle. That vehicle has perfect driver position for center of gravity, which makes for a great driving experience, and a very natural driving experience.
But overall, the form language, the styling direction that we took is very innovative, very tight surfaces and sections combined with a precise look, a look of precision and beautiful sculpture, and overall it makes a really bold statement.
Calty is Pushing the Edges of Design
ADO: Certain elements on the LC kind of jump out simply because we just don’t see them on a lot of other products, such as the A pillar with the twist increase and how it pitches, the cabin width versus the fenders, and the tail lamps. While the car itself all comes together nicely, you see a lot of little elements there that really kind of distinguish themselves. Are there other things that Lexus is pushing towards, or at least Calty likes to inject in some of these vehicles?
The Lexus brand is about driver engagement!
KH: Well, I think the movement that you mention from the front fender is very unique the way that it tracks up into the A pillar and we want to focus on the driver, so everything with the Lexus brand is about driver engagement. So that movement from the body up to the A pillar to the cabin sends the energy to the driver and that’s the expression that we wanted to give.
I also think the rear is really amazing. It’s incredibly wide and if you look at actually the rear panel, the rear quarter panel, the depth of that panel and that stamping is pretty amazing. So we were able to achieve that working closely with the engineers and that was, I think, quite a remarkable accomplishment given the depth of that panel.
ADO: Along those lines, was there much variation between the concept and the production in any of the features, or was it pretty consistent?
KH: The interesting thing about LC is, dimensionally it’s completely different, actually. The production car is completely different than the concept car. When you look at it, when you see it, you think of the concept car. So again I think the final production design team in Japan working with engineering did a remarkable job to retain the essence and the purity of that design statement and the spirit and the energy of it, and I think that’s quite a production accomplishment.
I still recall being at the Detroit Auto Show when the production car was introduced and standing around my colleagues, I judged for the EyesOn Design competition at Detroit, and when they looked at the production car they were wondering if we were showing the concept car again and that I think was quite a compliment to the production result.
The LC 500 isn’t just exciting to look at, this car moves!