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Auto Shows: Lexus LF-30 Concept in Tokyo Imagines the Electric Lexus of 2030

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"No more boring cars." That was the mandate from Toyota boss Akio Toyoda a few years back that sent Lexus on a journey to explore a more extreme, even outlandish, design language. The Lexus LF-30 Electrified concept is meant to be a glimpse of where that journey could take Toyota's premium brand by 2030. But what makes the LF-30 really interesting is not so much what it looks like, but the technologies it hints are in the Lexus brand's future—electric motors powered by solid-state batteries, full autonomous capability, and an interactive, configurable cabin awash with high-tech screens.

a car parked next to a body of water: Lexus LF 30 concept for 2019 Tokyo Motor Show 07 © Motor Trend Staff Lexus LF 30 concept for 2019 Tokyo Motor Show 07

The LF-30 has been unveiled as Lexus is moving forward with plans to reveal its first production battery electric vehicle (BEV) next month. A new plug-in hybrid Lexus model and a dedicated BEV platform designed to support a range of Lexus-branded electric vehicles, are scheduled to appear in 2020-2021. And by 2025 Lexus plans to have electrified versions of all its models on sale and expects them to be outselling their conventional internal-combustion engine counterparts.

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a black helmet © Motor Trend Staff

Designed in Toyota's ED2 Studio in the south of France, the LF-30 is as long as a Lexus LS sedan, as wide as an LC coupe, as tall as a UX crossover, and has the interior room of a minivan. If you think that from the side view it looks like two cars mashed together, you're not a million miles from the truth. Studio chief Ian Cartabiano describes the surfacing of the front half of the LF-30 as sensual and the rear half as sharp: "Like water becoming frozen."

It's an interesting idea, but the transition between the two states is awkward. The roof, almost flat at the windshield, becomes more obviously crowned just before the backlight, and the change in the visual relationship between the topline of the roof and the bright metal trim that runs along the top of the DLO makes the LF-30 look slightly broken-backed from side on. The big, soft radius in the surfacing that runs forward off the rear wheels and through the side glass itself—required to meld the narrowing, angular rear half of the car with the softer, fuller front half—exaggerates the effect from some angles, especially the three-quarter rear view.

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Electric power means there's no grille up front, but the controversial Lexus spindle lives on as a form that guides air into cooling vents for the e-motors and battery. Made of glass, it glows blue to show when the LF-30 is operating in autonomous mode. The vent forms either side are edged in light strips, and the headlights themselves are on the leading edge of small wing-like structures that come off the hood structure and connect with the outer edge of the front fenders.

a silver and black car © Motor Trend Staff

The spindle lives at the rear of the car, too, the edges of the black-tinted backlight being pulled tightly towards the center of the rear fascia—Rambler Marlin, anyone?-to meet a black-painted form that's defined by sharp lines that radiate out to the lower rear corners. The flying buttress taillights are an interesting idea: The outer sides help keep airflow attached to the rear of the car, improving aerodynamics.

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Though the LF-30's design brief included autonomous capability, the driver is celebrated with a unique seat and an extravagant digital display that includes a multi-screen hologram-effect instrument panel front and center. The front passenger gets a whole different digital show courtesy of a large semi wrap-around screen that extends back from the dash. The two rear seats are different again, each angled slightly toward each other to encourage conversation. On the roof above them is a giant augmented reality screen dubbed Sky Gate, not the least because it shows a map of the constellations above, and a next-generation Mark Levinson Active Sound Zone audio is ready to entertain passengers.

"We decided not to do a living room on wheels," says Cartabiano of the decision to break the LF-30's interior into three fixed and distinct zones, without features such as pivoting front seats seen on other autonomous-capable concepts. "I'm tired of loft spaces that drive you around." It's finished like a hipster loft, though, with cork composite material on the dash and door panels, carbon neutral suede on the rear seats, elegantly pleated woven recycled metal material used for decoration, and a wooden floor whose surface has been scorched using a traditional Japanese craft process called yakisugi.

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One of the coolest concepts in the LF-30 interior is the use of four smart devices called Keystones The idea is these devices—they look like rotary controllers stolen from a Bentley—are carried by the occupants, then placed on magnetic connection points at each seating position and used to control various functions. Each Keystone would contain unique user data that would automatically optimize the settings to their preferences for the seat in which they are sitting. The top surface of each Keystone is uniquely patterned by carbon captured in glass, the idea being the amount of carbon captured is equivalent to that produced making the car.

The Keystones pulse blue to the touch, strangely compelling objects to hold even though they are of course pure show-car fantasy. Also pure show-car fantasy is the LF-30's proposed powertrain, which consists of e-motors mounted in each of the car's 24-inch wheels, not the least because of the unsprung weight issues. Four e-motors mounted in the chassis, as in the Rimac C_Two hypercar or the Rivian SUV and pickup, would be more likely for an ultra-high-performance Lexus EV, and would still deliver capabilities such as infinitely variable torque vectoring to deliver the responsive dynamics the LF-30 is said to preview.

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