How Lexus is losing the luxury warS

Being the top-selling U.S. luxury brand for 11 years was nice, but according to a list of gripes in a leaked internal document obtained exclusively by Jalopnik, they're also on the verge of becoming the new Buick. UPDATED

The document — the notes from the Lexus Southern Region's dealership meeting — outlines several long-standing concerns, which the dealers say Lexus parent Toyota has been slow to tackle. Most boil down to dealers across the country begging Lexus for better vehicles in an aging lineup. They want cars and SUVs with more style, more technology, better pricing and more features to lure new buyers rather that relying on aging repeat customers.

"Lexus cannot afford to rely on selling cars to its existing aging customer base," the dealers warn, "or it risks becoming another Buick."

Even before the March tsunami curbed Toyota's output, Lexus was losing ground to not just European companies but General Motors. Through March, it was being outsold by BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac and Buick, whose new models have scrubbed off much of its reputation as car for people to enjoy from the game room of their nursing homes.

The dealers contend Lexus relies too much on its older "bargain" models — like the ES350 sedan and RX300 crossover — while putting no sales muscle into the pricier cars such as the LS460. Their wish list for new models includes an Audi Q5-sized small SUV, a three-row crossover distinctive from the RX, an IS coupe and convertible and replacements for the coupe and convertible SC. They also want more vehicles built in North America, citing the effects of the tsunami, although Toyota's North American production has also been cut in the wake of the disaster.

As for technology, dealers say Lexus is a "follower, not a leader," noting that Toyota's Entune entertainment system is far more advanced than anything in Lexus models — yet will be sold on Toyotas first. Lexus is of course the same brand that up until this year was still offering a cassette player as an option in one of its cars — the last automaker in the United States to still do so. And while the dealers don't mention the Hyundai Equus by name, they do tout the idea of giving iPads as owner's manuals.

While Lexus has promised more aggressive styling — as seen by the LF-Gh concept — it's also facing an onslaught from companies around the world who want the ample cash of American Lexus owners. There's no easy money left anywhere else.

UPDATE: Lexus and its dealers both sent statements to Jalopnik taking issue with our story and denying any dissatisfaction between dealers and the company. Brian Smith, the vice president of sales and dealer development said Lexus will hear the complaints soon:

While most manufacturers say they listen to their dealers, at Lexus we do more than listen. We work side-by-side with our dealers in planning our business and taking care of customers each and every day. It's precisely because of this two-way communication that Lexus has led the industry in quality, customer satisfaction, owner loyalty and resale value, to name a few.

Kevin Whalen, the national chairman of the Lexus dealer council, said such criticism was part of the "secret sauce" for the automaker's success, and that dealers have long held an open dialogue with Lexus.

You can see the full leaked document below: