So I'm sitting on the couch the other day, minding my own business and eating animal crackers, when it strikes me like a cartoon anvil: the Lexus LFA is the worst halo car that has ever existed.
Admittedly, I didn't come up with this thought on my own. My thinking at the time was limited to more serious matters, such as: "Why aren't these filled with caramel?" And besides, I generally don't think about Lexus all that much, unless I get up behind one in traffic and I decide to play a game in my head, such as: "Who's older: this Lexus driver, or the Panama Canal?"
No, this thought came to me because Lexus is currently running commercials that feature the LFA, and I happened to catch one the other day. Have you seen these yet? Here's what happens: a bunch of Lexuses are driving around a warehouse, or an industrial park, or possibly space (I didn't watch it that closely) and eventually they're joined by an LFA. Then they all drive around some more, and there's all this music playing, and eventually an announcer comes on and says: "Lexus. Born from Jets."
No, I'm kidding, I have no idea what he says. But the point is: the LFA is in currently in a modern TV commercial, which strikes me as a bit odd, considering it ended production a few years ago. Imagine, if you will, Lincoln running a commercial that features the Town Car. It wouldn't work, and Lincoln would sell very few cars, which would be an improvement over the current situation, so maybe they should try it.
But anyway: the commercial reminded me about how the LFA is the worst halo car of all time, a proven fact that I've decided to explain here today.
To begin, I should explain the term "halo car" for those of you who haven't heard it before. Here's what it means: let's say you're building some bland, boring, mediocre automobiles, such as the Ford Freestyle, and you realize that your stuff is so dull that sometimes the NHTSA forgets to crash-test it.
So what you do is, you create a tremendously cool "halo car" that will bring people into the showrooms, and remind them that you still exist, and convince them that your cars are still worth considering, even though your primary client is Roger Johnson, southeast area manager for Hertz, who calls you up every few weeks and says: "Gimme fifty blue. Doesn't matter what model."
A good example of the halo car done right is the Audi R8. Here's what happened: in the mid-2000s, Audi was building excellent cars in the sense that they were handsome, and they had nice interiors, and they were waiting until after the warranty period to suffer catastrophic engine damage, and they weren't even accelerating on their own and killing people anymore. But no one was buying them, largely because they weren't as cool as BMW for young people, or as established as Mercedes-Benz for old people, or as available with cassette decks as Lexus for rotary club members.
So what happened was, Audi came out with the R8, and boy, did that change everything. Suddenly you started seeing R8s everywhere, with those cool headlights, and that giant side panel, and that high-tech interior, and that see-through engine bay, and after a while you found yourself saying: "Maybe Audi is cool these days! I'll ask daddy for one as soon as a spot becomes available in the sorority house parking lot!"
And this brings us to the primary problem with the LFA: no living human being has ever actually seen one in person.
Oh, sure, maybe you saw an LFA at Cars and Coffee, because the local eccentric millionaire just picked one up after his Lamborghini caught on fire for the seventh time. Or maybe you saw one on the street, and you texted all your friends about how it's SO COOL, and then, when it came time to buy your next car, you went to the BMW dealer and leased a new 2 Series, because who the hell would buy a LEXUS?
But if you disregard that one time where you saw an LFA and freaked out, you probably aren't seeing LFAs all that often. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem with the LFA's status as a supposed halo car: in order for a halo car to work, people have to actually know what it is. And nobody has any idea what the hell the LFA is, unless they happen to look really closely in that commercial and Google it later.
This is where Audi did right: the R8 was expensive enough to be cool, but not so expensive that people keep them locked up in garages inside one of those inflatable bubbles. The result is that the R8 is a brand ambassador for Audi at every stoplight, reminding people that Audi is more than just a timing belt service where you have to remove the entire front end of your car just to replace a part that costs about the same as a house plant.
The LFA, on the other hand, was extremely limited in production, which means you never see them at stoplights. And at nearly $400,000, it was extremely expensive, which means they're all tucked away, out of public view, unless the owner decides to take it to some exciting automotive gathering, where everybody already knows about it anyway.
In other words: the LFA was a halo car flop. It was too rare to change anyone's perception of Lexus, and too expensive to appeal to anyone besides car enthusiasts. And it certainly didn't have any effect on the current demographics of the average Lexus buyer. I know this because "Panama Canal" is only the right answer about half the time.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.