Paul Williamsen is the national manager at the Lexus College, a Lexus division of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. He has worked for Toyota since 1989 and is currently responsible for the education and development for Lexus sales associates in the U.S. Prior to this, Williamsen worked as a service technician for BMW and Porsche and co-authored, illustrated and edited a do-it-yourself manual on fuel injection systems. Most recently, Williamsen has helped developed a number of programs in support of the 2012 composite Lexus LFA supercar.
What is the current marketplace for vehicles using advanced materials?
If we talk specifically about composites, we believe that at the moment its use is limited to the very high-end of the market where the customer has a little more price tolerance and specifically has a strong and deep interest in advanced technology. In a car like the LFA, the fact that it is an all non-ferrous vehicle is a big part of its appeal; that it’s not made out of steel but instead out of advanced composites with advanced aluminum and other light alloys. To see wider adoption of composites and carbon fibers in particular, we’ll need to continue to advance on the price curve and that will depend on improving quality and speed of manufacture.
What is Toyota’s objective for developing the Lexus LFA supercar?
Our objective for the LFA has been very interesting; it took ten years to develop and is not intended to be a big moneymaker for us. In total it will have a production run of just 500 units, all 2012 models, to assure the owner some exclusivity. The primary reason for the LFA was simply for the process of doing it. We challenged our engineers: Build the apex, the pinnacle of the automakers art. Our company finds value in challenging ourselves with engineering tasks that seem impossible and then seeing what our engineers actually have to do to meet those stretch goals. In the previous decade, we gave our engineers the challenge of building the world’s first mass-production hybrid vehicle; and they did in under half a decade. With the LFA—again, a different challenge, a different group of engineers—one of the interesting things was that during the first three or four years of development, it was not seen as being a composite vehicle. At first we assumed it would have an aluminum chassis and an aluminum body. The engineering team was able to develop the engine, the transmission and the suspension for the LFA as well as the styling and the packaging. They did that for several years, using aluminum as the material for both the structure of the vehicle and the exterior body.