There are three things auto manufacturers are pretty much required to develop now to stay relevant: electric vehicles, crossovers, and autonomous-driving technology. As to that last one, the industry has decided it’s no longer a question of if driverless cars are coming; it’s a matter of when. Dozens of recent concept cars from all parts of the globe have explored what manufacturers want and hope to do in futures near and far. The latest is the Lexus LS+ concept, a riff on the new-generation LS flagship sedan that features partial autonomous driving.
It’s somewhat strange for a car to go from concept to production and back to concept, but that’s exactly what Lexus has done with the LS. We’ve already driven the 2018 LS, but this Tokyo auto show property shows off new looks and technological advancements. In a move that almost seems like trolling at this point, Lexus has yet again tweaked its polarizing spindle grille, and this time there are lights—lots of lights.
Bright-blue lighting traces the sides of the grille, cascading from the boomerang-styled laser-powered headlamps down to the car’s chin; they also illuminate sequentially when the car is started. The Lexus badge is trimmed in blue, as are the large turbine-shaped wheels. A band of lighting stretches across the back end, wrapping around to the sides of the car. It sits above a set of weblike lights on each corner that appear to serve as turn signals. But such wild lighting is just the equivalent of a guy in a zebra costume spinning the arrow toward the mattress store, because the LS+ is actually intended as a signal of Lexus’s intentions with semi-automated driving technology.
Lexus hopes to use what it calls Highway Teammate in a production car by 2020, although it’s highly unlikely that will include the United States (the company is working with the Japanese government to map all of that country’s highways to prepare for the technology). Highway Teammate allows cars driving on limited-access roads such as freeways to take control from the driver—merging, changing lanes, maintaining safe distances, and keeping the car in its lane all on its own. Once the car exits, it indicates that it is time for the driver to retake control.
The LS+ can also communicate with Lexus data centers, constantly improve its driving algorithm via artificial intelligence, and add new capabilities through over-the-air updates. The only thing that seems off about this application is that it isn’t being showcased in an SUV or crossover, Lexus’s bread-and-butter vehicles, which would have checked off two relevance boxes with one concept.