Lexus launched an expensive plan to enter F1 way back in 1983. Not quite Formula One, but a project code named Flagship One which was to take the Japanese car manufacturer into a new realm of luxury to compete with the elite German marques.
It started with a simple challenge from Founder Eiji Toyoda – build the world’s best car. It culminated in the launch of the acclaimed LS 400 after a feverish five years.
The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection took $1 billion, 450 prototypes, 60 designers and 400 engineers. And the expertise of a special “Team One” unit from leading agency Saatchi & Saatchi to pioneer the marketing.
The legend goes that the F1 designers rented a home in Laguna Beach to get a glimpse of the well-heeled American consumer and their motoring minds.
The project wasn’t aimed at the home market – rather the United States. And the core reason was a trade agreement between the Japanese government and US trade officials to restrict the export of less expensive models.
In an automobile version of the Space Race, Honda got into the American arena with the Acura and Nissan reached for the skies with the Infiniti.
Some reports claimed the LS 400 had better handling and performance and shockwaves rocked the Mercedes Benz and BMW camps with Cadillacs and Lincolns being traded in and German luxury vehicle sales dropping by almost 30%.
By 1999 Lexus had recorded the millionth vehicle sold in the US and in 2005 there was an organizational separation from Toyota, with dedicated designers and engineers working exclusively for the brand.
Despite the fact that the Lexus offering was comparable to the German leaders and left the showroom floors with some fancy features included in the price, it wasn’t a package to get the adrenaline pumping.
The sporting badges of Merc AMG and the BMW M division had been wheel-spinning to capture the drivers who want more than a quiet and leisurely jaunt to the shopping center and certainly relish the looks and audio levels to get noticed en route.
The Japanese reply, fresh off the drawing board of the F-Sport Division, came in the form of the IS F, launched in 2007 and the much vaunted LFA – custom built to the last detail. It was only in production for two years and the allotted 500 specialized models found relatively happy homes.
“The LFA is an icon now and possibly always will be – we don’t need to replace it to keep that status. It is a car we can reference for another 25 years if we choose. Its status is assured,” said European boss, Alain Uyttenhoven.
“It is possible that we will one day create another supercar, but in my view a super high-end machine is not what we need right now.”
Enter highway left the Lexus LC 500. The concept car drew gasps five years ago and Lexus have been one of the few automakers brave enough to take a dream design to the production line.
Maybe not a supercar – the definitions vary – but not light on the wallet at a retail price of $130,000.
“Not only has Lexus delivered a design with high visual impact, it has also developed ground-breaking engineering and technology for the LC 500. This isn’t simply a car that looks good – the LC 500 has been engineered in every dimension to deliver a very special driving experience,” says Calvyn Hamman, Sales and Marketing Senior Vice president of Lexus South Africa.
And with such a long title, he should know! While sportscar designs can be hotly debated, this one is hard to ignore. It almost seems to perch on the tarmac like a squat sprinter waiting for the buzzer.
The meshed grille, like a more macho version of the Mercedes diamond front end, reaches out to you with its contoured mould. It is flanked by recessed and diminutive triple LED headlights that blend into the bodywork in a Star Wars fashion.
The “Experience Amazing” theme flows to the rear with L-shaped taillights that have an acclaimed “afterburner” effect courtesy of 80 concentric LEDs per lamp.
Open the door and the interior is dashing with crisp metallic lines, the controls easily at hand and the seats firm and supportive.
But don’t plan on taking any six-footers in the back seats – like most GT cars this is really the home of Yorkies on their way to the parlor.
When it comes to infotainment systems, the cry of the decade seems to be for systems to delight a 16-year-old but take a bit of head scratching for the Stoneage.com generation.
So you may have got used to the touchscreen or the round click wheels – or even voice recognition – to command your high-tech steed.
Now we have the track-pad – very much like the device on your laptop. I’m sure it can control anything from heating the seats to ordering a hot take-away. And given weeks of practice it may feel like an extension of your left hand.
But it is finicky, to say the least, and by carelessly resting your elbow near the ultra-sensitive pad you may find the climate control battling the Arctic or iTunes blasting out from your cellphone. Fortunately there are the old fashioned knobs and switches for some of the basic requirements at the wheel!
The daring overall creation is wrapped around a normally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 which propels the LC to 100km/h in a swift 4.7 seconds with the most pleasantly guttural sound yet to be emitted by a Lexus. Yet not quite in the league of a Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type R and it only really sings at the higher revs.
What is absolutely phenomenal is the 10-speed box which is so smooth that it’s a challenge not to paddle up and down through the gears to feel the silky transitions or get an additional growl from the exhausts.
It is a hefty beast but delivers an engaging drive that sometimes sees you straying over the speed limit. And you have no excuses – the heads up display will give you ample warning.
There have also been many profit warnings in the motor trade in recent years. Lexus doesn’t disclose too much publicly about their financial operations but insiders say the division contributes a healthy share to Toyota’s bottom line.
The Group recently raised its full-year profit forecast by 16%, citing expectations of a weaker Yen. So now they say a profit of $16.8 million is on the cards – slightly down from last year.
“Our organization has been working to evolve with the changing consumer tastes in luxury,” says Tokuo Fukuichi, President of Lexus International.
“The new LC embodies a shift in forward-thinking culture, and is a glimpse into the products and experiences you can expect from Lexus in the coming years.”
South Africans will only get a fleeting taste right now. There are just a handful of LC 500s heading this way and the hybrid LS 500h is restricted to selected overseas markets.
Will the new flagship herald the next chapter in the Lexus tome and feed down the line to all the upcoming models? It has been an encouraging new beginning. – Written by Derek Watts
Harry And Meghan Need $3 Million-Plus To Be ‘Financially Independent.’ Here’s How They May Do It.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would like to “become financially independent,” they announced Wednesday—and that may have to happen sooner rather than later, as Prince Charles, Harry’s father, is reportedly threatening to pull the millions he gives them each year. How they plan to replace those funds remains a subject of feverish palace intrigue about which the couple remains mum.
But what is clear: By stepping away from their duties, they likely are no longer prohibited from earning income the way senior members of the royal family are, clearing the way for them to take real jobs. What will those be? And how much will they actually need to make in order to live in the style to which they’ve become accustomed?
Annual Costs: Roughly $3 Million A Year (Not Including Renovations)
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact amount that Prince Harry and Markle earn from the various royal mechanisms each year—and a spokesperson for the Sussexes did not respond to questions about on the couple’s finances—but 95% of their annual income comes from Prince Charles, Harry’s father, via the Duchy of Cornwall. A trust that consists of 131,000 acres of real estate and more than $450 million in commercial assets within the United Kingdom, the Duchy of Cornwall was established in 1337 to support the direct heir to the throne.
That estate paid a combined $6.5 million (or £5.1 million) to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton) and to Prince Harry and Markle in the fiscal year ending March 2019, according to the latest financial report. The funding for the princes and their families didn’t change much from 2018 to 2019, although both reports were prior to the birth of the Sussex couple’s son, Archie. Let’s assume the brothers split that income from the Duchy (though William and Kate, with three children, are likely taking a bit more). While the Duke and Duchess did not immediately surrender this income, reports surfaced Friday that Charles is threatening to cut them off completely.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex did announce that they will “no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant,” which we know covers an additional 5% of their income, and used for their official duties. It covers official business such as international tours, travel to official events and the upkeep of their homes and offices, and comes from about 25% of the revenue from the Crown Estate (£85.9 million or $112.2 million for the 2020–2021 fiscal year), a portfolio of investments controlled by the monarchy—though not by the royal family or the government—and includes properties across the United Kingdom. (For example, the Queen herself does not own Buckingham Palace.)
In 2018 and 2019, the couple used money from the Sovereign Grant to travel across the world, from Fiji to South Africa, on official royal business. While the royal annual reports don’t detail how much the Sussex’s travels cost in total, their trip to Fiji and Tonga cost $105,000 (£81,000), according to the latest Sovereign Grant financial report. (While it may seem that travel costs could go down as the couple steps back from royal duties, they say they plan to split time between the British Isles and North America, which will lead to new expenses.)
Based on what we know, we estimate the total of the couple’s funds from the Duchy and Sovereign Grants to be a (very conservative) $3 million—again, not including security costs.
And that’s not including the cost of their home and renovations: The Sovereign Grant covered last year’s $3.12 million (£2.4 million) refurbishment of the Frogmore Cottage, the four-bedroom plus nursery home in Windsor where the couple lives when they are in England. The home’s maintenance began before the couple decided to move in and was covered by the Queen, under existing commitments to maintain the upkeep of certain historical buildings, while the couple privately paid for the furniture and decor. Even though the house is property of the Queen, the couple plans to continue using it as their official residence when they are in the United Kingdom—meaning less rent to pay.
None of this takes into account the cost of their security, which is reportedly covered by the Metropolitan Police, and which the family is expected to continue to accept.
With all of these expenses and their easy access to funds facing a precarious future, the questions remains of how, exactly, the couple plan to earn the millions that their lifestyle demands.
What Could Make A Royal Gig: Books, Speeches, SponCon?
They do have some money to live off of: Thanks to her seven-year stint on the television drama Suits, Forbes estimates that Markle has a net worth of about $2.2 million. Prince Harry has money of his own as well, as he and his brother received the bulk of Princess Diana’s $31.5 million estate upon her death in 1997.
But it is likely that they will join other royals, like Harry’s cousins Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, and actually take paying gigs (the former works in finance, while the latter works at an art gallery). While no announcements have been made as to how exactly the couple plans to make money, it would seem natural that they take up work in the entertainment and media fields.
Markle has said that she was giving up acting for good once she joined the royal family; maybe this is an opportunity for her to change her mind. At the height of her acting career, she commanded up to $85,000 per episode of Suits, Forbes estimates, a number that would likely shoot up thanks to her royal title if she decided to return to the screen.
But it is more likely that the pair will take up shop on the speaking and book circuit. High-profile speakers like former president and first lady Bill and Hillary Clinton can earn up to six figures per speech to corporations and universities, while even B-list celebrities like Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi could command $32,000 per oration during the height of her fame.
A hit book has the potential to earn the couple even more. A seven-figure advance is typical for celebrities like Amy Schumer and politicians like Elizabeth Warren, with some high-profile authors earning even more. In 2017, former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama signed a record-breaking $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House, while Hillary Clinton scored a $14 million advance for Hard Choices in 2014, and Bruce Springsteen got $10 million for 2016’s Born to Run.
There’s also talk that the couple, which favors new media and direct lines of communication with their fans, may even start a podcast, which could be a lucrative endeavor. Last year, advertising spend on podcasts reached an estimated $680 million, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, and that number is supposed to shoot up to $1 billion by next year.
And in the unlikely chance they’re ever interested in following the footsteps of the royal family of Calabasas, the Duke and Duchess could surely earn an enormous sum doing sponsored content on their widely popular (10.4 million followers) Instagram account. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and her half-sister Kylie Jenner earn up to $500,000 per post.
Of course, the details of the couple’s future, and their future earnings, are all in flux, as Buckingham Palace’s curt statement on the matter made clear. And the wording of their own statement made sure that they can work toward financial independence on their own time. One thing is for certain: It doesn’t seem as if the Duke and Duchess will be hurting for cash anytime soon.
Forbes Africa’s Best Photographs In 2019
[Compiled by Motlabana Monnakgotla, Gypseenia Lion and Karen Mwendera]
Kabelo Mpofu, an entrepreneur, took over his mother’s shop in Meadowlands, in the South African township of Soweto. He is hopeful of making the family business a success despite big retail stores opening up in the townships and swallowing up the corner groceries.
Africa is the youngest continent in the world. Every year, South Africa observes June as Youth Month, honoring the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising on June 16. In this image, the country’s sprawling township of Soweto comes alive with youth dancing in the winter weather to local and international music at the Soweto International Jazz Festival, an annual confluence of history, art and culture.
Women hold up placards against gender-based violence during a ‘Shutdown Sandton’ campaign; this after a spate of brutal rape and killings in South Africa.
Car dealerships were among the businesses set alight in Johannesburg’s Jules Street, during the spate of xenophobia attacks in South Africa in August this year. The spark that fueled the raging fire began in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district.
Sibusiso Dlamini, the co-founder of Soweto Ink, works on one of his regular clients at his tattoo parlor founded in 2014 with his long-time friend, Ndumiso Ramate. In 2019, Soweto Ink held the fourth annual tattoo convention, and for the first time in partnership with BET Africa, to break tattoo taboos in Africa.
Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of South Africa’s opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is about to cast his vote in front of local and international media houses who had wrestled to get the perfect shot in his hometown in Dobsonville, Soweto, during the elections in South Africa in 2019.
The brother of South African journalist, Shiraaz Mohamed, begs for government intervention after Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria on January 2017 by a group of armed men. The group demanded more than $500,000 for his freedom.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with his body guards at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the three-day South Africa Investment Conference was held in November.
In a world that’s embracing new technology, inspiration is being found in bug behavior. The hard-bodied dung beetle is now key to robotics research, in Africa too. Astounded by this discovery early this year is Marcus Byrne, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who has been studying dung beetles for over 20 years. He holds up a metallic replica of a dung beetle in his hand in his office at the university.
Mzimhlophe Hostel, a hostel among many others in Soweto, erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections in South Africa. In the same vicinity, an informal settlement was also allegedly set on fire. Brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22), pictured, had arrived in Johannesburg looking for employment. They sold African beer, but their shack was set alight while they were still at church. They lost all their stock and possessions.
A thrift market in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district, not too far from a busy taxi rank, known for its pavement robberies. Despite the crimes, thousands of small entrepreneurs trade in this raucous market every day.
ANC, DA and EFF supporters dancing and chanting outside the Hitekani Primary School in Chiawelo, Soweto, South Africa, as they await South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to cast his vote in his former primary school.
Tenants in the discarded Vannin Court in Johannesburg look on from their balconies as jubilation erupts on the ground floor.
Vestine Nyiravesabimana makes money weaving intricate baskets made of grass to feed her nine children in Kigali, Rwanda.
Colors For Mandela
The world of comic books is dominated by stories from the West. Two South African brothers are helping reshape that narrative with a central character inspired by the iconic hero.
Nelson Mandela had his own following at the recent Comic Con Africa convention at the end of September in Johannesburg.
At the center of all the organized chaos at the event at the Gallagher Convention Centre attended by 71,000 visitors over four days was a comic book bearing the late South African president’s name created by brothers Phemelo, 28, and Omphile Dibodu, 25.
The comic book, Young Nelson, features an African superhero, for readers in the continent and beyond.
Co-founders of Rainbow Nations Comics, a black-owned comic book and publishing company established in 2018, the Dibodu brothers were born and bred in Rustenburg, known as ‘platinum city’, in South Africa’s North West province.
Far from their hometown, the duo were in the big city for the event, showcasing their creations to an adept audience – people dressed as superheroes, cyborgs and zombies – who crowded around their stand and were as colorful as the comic books they were thumbing through.
“Wow, that looks cool, who is Young Nelson?” asked a curious bystander.
Phemelo was ready with his answers even as his brother assisted with more queries.
“Young Nelson is a proudly South African black comic book inspired by the late Nelson Mandela,” responded Phemelo.
In front of him, on the table, a large poster of Young Nelson, featuring a young black male with the South African flag over his shoulders and a gold-colored map of Africa emblazoned on his shirt.
This day saw the launch of the very first issue of Young Nelson titled An Act of Kindness, for R20 ($1.3) a copy.
Phemelo, the writer, and Omphile, the illustrator, say they were inspired by Mandela and some of their own life experiences growing up.
“I think I wanted to pay tribute to the old man in a way that it would hopefully inspire others to look at him in the way that many South Africans see him,” says Phemelo to FORBES AFRICA.
In the story, ‘Young Nelson’ gets his nickname when he volunteers at a local boxing gym. The people watching him witness his skills and ability to solve problems, so they equate him to the young Mandela, who was famously a boxer in his youth.
“[The lead character] doesn’t like the nickname at first but once he sees the significance of it and his heroics, how they are taken up by the community to represent who they are, he takes the name and rolls with it and that’s his superhero name going forward with the series,” Phemelo explains.
Young Nelson’s real name in the comic is actually ‘Thabo Mo Afrika’, inspired by South African president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela.
“ ‘Mo Afrika’ is a generic surname [which] translated into English is ‘an African’. So I wanted to see every African seeing themselves in Young Nelson,” Phemelo adds.
The young writer’s plan is to take his product to bigger markets, but for now, the African comic industry is a tough market to capture for lack of any funding.
“Imagine getting paid for what you are doing. That would [make a] big difference. Once people realize that their art can be compensated, more of us will actually start creating content the world would want to start reading,” he says.
Bill Masuku, a speaker at the Comic Con event and who is also a digital artist, shares the same sentiments.
“In Zimbabwe, where I am from, it is pretty grassroots. Everyone is self-publishing and if you don’t really have a passion for it, the book won’t come out,” says Masuku, who has been a part of the African comic industry for over three years. He is the founder of Enigma Comix Africa, and creator of Razor-Man and Captain South Africa.
“As much as new creatives are coming out every day, what really makes the comic book industry is distribution. And seeing that [Young Nelson] has such widespread potential really makes me hopeful for where we are going,” says Masuku.
For comic books to thrive on the continent, they need a big financial push from publishers, distributors or investors, unlike any other medium.
The Dibodu brothers were fortunate to have been sponsored by the Rustenburg Herald, a weekly local newspaper in Rustenburg.
“The problem with creating by yourself is that you can only create at a certain rate and you do burn out. So you find people who have been making comics who have three or four issues out and it’s easy to forget about them as a consumer,” he adds.
Globally, platforms like Weekly Shōnen Jump in Japan make it easy for Japanese creatives to publish their work as the comic book and manga industry is thriving there, making it one of the best-selling magazines. Weekly Shōnen Jump has sold over 7.5 billion copies since 1968.
But the African comic industry has a long way to go.
Kugali, a digital platform founded by three entrepreneurs and friends from Nigeria and Uganda, is designed to help people find and share the best African narratives and comics. It is an entertainment company that focuses on telling stories inspired by Africans, offering much-needed exposure to young creatives such as Masuku and the Dibodu brothers. For now, the reception the Dibodus are receiving give them some hope.
“It’s been awesome and inspirational. I didn’t know people felt the same way as me. It’s amazing when people are [reading] the story of the character and people are saying ‘you know what, that’s what we need’,” says Phemelo. At the end of Comic Con, they managed to sell over 300 copies of Young Nelson.
“People are catching onto the culture. I think it might even grow bigger than the American industry only because I think we are a very artistic community… Whether you look at the hieroglyphics in Egypt or the cave paintings by the bushmen in South Africa, we draw,” he says.
He also plans to sell his comics to local book stores in the country.
The team is currently working on their next creation – a black African female superhero called Imbokodo.
“We are looking for new creators we can partner with and create our own justice league, our own Avengers, to actually have young kids in South Africa look at their heroes the same way Americans look at their heroes in the Comic Cons to come.”
Young Nelson is a refreshing reminder that not all heroes wear capes.
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