By now, it's certain: the Toyota Land Cruiser is leaving America behind. Toyota admitted as much, revealing in a statement that 2021 would be the last model year for the Land Cruiser here in the United States (although that brief Christmas Eve statement was the equivalent of breaking up via text message).
That said, while the all-new J300 may not be coming to Toyota showrooms, it seems very likely that some version of it will arrive here — just via those cozy Lexus dealerships instead. The J80, J100 and J200 Land Cruisers, after all, also had Lexus twins — the LX 450, LX 470 and LX 570, respectively — and considering the current booming market for high-end SUVs, ditching the sport-ute flagship would be foolish.
But will Lexus's version of the J300 be the only new burly, body-on-frame SUV to show up in the luxury brand's American lineup in the next few years?
That's the question being asked after a story in Automotive News about the vanishing Land Cruiser brought forth a couple interesting, enigmatic quotes from Toyota's North American leaders.
“What we have seen at Toyota is that there’s so much of an appetite for [off-roading] that I see that [moving into] the Lexus brand as well,” Jack Hollis, head of automotive operations at Toyota Motor North America, told AN. Hollis added that he saw a "white space" in the Lexus lineup for a Land Cruiser-esque off-roader, which he claims Lexus dealers have been clamoring for for nearly 10 years.
Now, reading that, you might at first suspect that Hollis simply forgot about the LX. (To be fair, considering Toyota Motor North America sold 2.1 million cars last year and only 4,512 of those were LX 570s, we wouldn't blame him.) But Lexus brand head Andrew Gilleland clearly is aware of it — and his words suggest that there could be new opportunities in the off-road market.
“We have body-on-frame vehicles that would lend themselves to that type of execution, if we decide to go that way,” Gilleland told AN. He cited the success Ford has seen with the launch of the new Bronco as proof of the fire in customers' bellies for overlanders and all-terrain SUVs: "I think there’s a strong market out there for authentic off-road chops and credibility. We’re seeing that with 4Runner as well."
"There’s still a thirst out there for body-on-frame and authentic off-road [capability]," Gilleland said, "so it’s something we’re exploring.”
So what, exactly, does this mean? Well, as fun as it is to imagine Lexus rolling out its very own bespoke Bronco fighter on the Hilux chassis, the odds of entirely new additions to the lineup seem small. Gilleland did name-drop the 4Runner, which could mean that a Lexus version of that iconic SUV is on its way; then again, the current model is hardly getting any younger, and a new one is likely a few years off, so odds are we'd have to wait until that all-new 4Runner shows up to see a Lexus equivalent.
Such a model, though, would come awfully close to overlapping with the Lexus GX, which is basically a gussied-up version of the smaller Land Cruiser Prado sold abroad. The Prado/GX (a.k.a. the J150 in internal parlance) is nearly as old as the J200, so a replacement seems likely to come a couple years after the J300 shows up. But a refreshed version of that would be a replacement for an existing model — not an example of the "white space" Hollis was talking about.
So perhaps Toyota and Lexus are talking less about additional models, and more about variants. After all, several reports have suggested the next-gen LX is expected to go super-luxurious, shooting to take on the likes of the Bentley Bentayga and Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600. Perhaps Lexus is simply planning on having two branches of the J300 LX tree: a hyper-luxury model with a lofty price tag and all the luxury accoutrements you'd expect at that price, and a model that emphasizes off-road capability, with burlier tires, added ground clearance, underbelly armor and everything else you'd want to go smash some trails.
After all, remember this: Lexus has rolled out no fewer than three overland-spec custom off-roaders in the last couple years. Clearly, they're well aware of what people want.