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Zen’s use in a Lexus

Zen’s use in a Lexus

Tessa R. Salazar

In a world full of hustle and bustle, and when the stresses of modern living can oftentimes drive us humans to the brink of insanity, it pays to slow down, breathe, and be “in the moment.”

Yes, it sounds counterintuitive to slow down when you want to stay in the moment. But for centuries, the world’s most enduring societies have espoused this. It’s inherent in Buddhism, one of the world’s oldest spiritual movements, wherein Zen is achieved during meditation and when the heart is calm.

The same calming effect on body and mind can also be achieved through yoga. But where Zen is a denomination of an ancient religion, yoga is often regarded as a philosophy.

The Zen/Yoga connection has been studied thoroughly, specifically by Masaru Tobe and Shigeru Saito from the anesthesiology department of the Gunma University Graduate School of Medicine in Gunma, Japan. Their research includes a paper titled “Analogy between classical Yoga/Zen breathing and modern clinical respiratory therapy.”

Speaking of Gunma, another notable Japanese citizen hailing from this mountainous and heavily forested prefecture is Takashi Watanabe. Watanabe became the president of Lexus International in March of 2023. He was born in Gunma, and graduated from Gunma National College of Technology before joining Toyota Motor Corp in 1993.

In my recent interview with Watanabe-san just a month ago at the Tokyo Big Sight during the Japan Mobility Show 2023, I learned that Watanabe-san practices yoga.

Apparently, yoga has helped the executive achieve the mental clarity and the keen focus to become a better corporate leader and auto engineer.

Watanabe began his career with the advanced development of engine systems at Higashi-Fuji Research Center. In 2012, he moved to Lexus International, where he was first engaged in the product planning for flagship models LS and LC, as well as the development of the GA-L platform. In 2017, as chief engineer, he was responsible for the development of the UX300e and RZ electric vehicles. In 2020, this expanded to being the head of Lexus Electrified Development, where he spearheaded the promotion of electrification across the Lexus brand.

Watanabe-san developed his fascination for cars during the “supercar boom” in Japan in the 1970s. He said he believes in experimenting and learning quickly—moving on to the next idea immediately if others don’t work out.

Watanabe-san’s knack for auto engineering and adherence to yoga would seem an unlikely combo. But it works. I remember watching a 6-minute YouTube video of a certain mechanical engineering student named Anna Balbach who was helping her peers find mental balance and strength ahead of their final exams at the University of Southern California. Anna, who was also a yoga instructor, stressed that engineering and yoga are interconnected “because we can engineer our body and mind to function for our benefit,” adding that “Yoga helps to connect our minds to bodies, which results in better performance in our daily lives.’’

Through yoga, Watanabe learned the importance of seamlessly interlocking elements of balance, posture and flexibility by strengthening the core, a sensibility and way of thinking he sees as equally important in car development.

Now, let me disabuse you from the thought that getting inside a Lexus vehicle will contort your body like a pretzel. That’s not the kind of yoga we’re talking about here. What Watanabe and his team of engineers and designers at Lexus have achieved is quite the opposite, in fact. And future Lexus battery electric vehicle (BEV) owners will immediately see and feel it.

Blow minds, then state of Zen

The Lexus RZ—the luxury marque’s first shot at purpose-built BEVs—will blow minds, and then just as soon put them in a state of Zen for its ease of use, refinement and sensibilities.

The RZ 450e, like the one I was able to test drive at the Toyota Technical Center Shimoyama last month, is equipped with the Lexus-first Steer-by-Wire, which is easier to maneuver around corners, tight parking spaces and road obstacles. Driving it felt like my connection with the vehicle was heightened; that I and the car were one. In a word, Zen.

Well, that was no accident. The RZ 450e was designed to make its drivers feel that—the heightened engagement between the driver and the vehicle. Engineering-wise, there’s no direct mechanical shaft connecting the steering yoke to the tires and wheels, only an electrical connection. And with the adoption of the over-the-air (OTA) software Arene Operating System, it will be possible to replicate various car operations, driving characteristics, sounds and vibrations tailored to individual preferences in just one car. The combination of this Steer-by-Wire and OTA will allow Lexus to bring vehicle settings from the virtual space into the real world.

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Future Lexus owners will be able to engage in e-sports using Steer-By-Wire tech inside the vehicle, for example, then implement their preferred settings through OTA to allow them to experience it in the real world.

Better performance in the real world, then, could also mean better performance in cars. The “confidence, control, and comfort” mantra of Lexus in its RZ’s driving characteristics would mean that it could respond exactly the way its driver intended. And the super-responsive electric powertrain enhances this quality even more. Overall, this is “The Natural” performance concept targeted by its chief engineer Watanabe.

Future Lexus BEV designs will be deliberately daring and provocative. But Zen is in the details. I just came across a Facebook reel of Supercar Blondie revealing the exterior and interior touches of the LF-ZL, or Lexus Future Zero emissions Luxury EV SUV, and I was amazed at the generous use of bamboo in the interior, particularly on side panels. And it’s backlit with LED screens! Incidentally, bamboo has often been associated with Zen and meditation. In Buddhism, bamboo is a symbol of enlightenment, and you’ll often see bamboo in Japanese Zen gardens. Biologically, bamboo strikes a balance between its rapid growth and significant CO2 absorption capacity. And now, integrated in Lexus’ state-of-the-art vehicles, bamboo has been elevated in luxury and beauty.

What would make Lexus BEVs even more Zen is the avoidance of any animal skin in the making of the interior. Three months ago, Lexus Philippines’ AVP Jade Sison disclosed, “Our RZ BEV has ultrasuede for its interior. It’s sustainable suede partly using biomaterials and recycled PET.”

Checking my online sources, InsideEV says the RZ 450e Premium gets NuLuxe faux leather seats, while the Luxury gets microfiber suede upholstery, and a supple NuLuxe steering wheel and microfiber door panels make an appearance on both.

If there’s such a thing called the “Twin Flame” phenomena in yoga that brings about energetic and spiritual love, then there’s also Lexus RZ’s two e-Axles, separate compact motor units used at the front and rear to deliver highly responsive acceleration and handling.

The Lexus RZ 450e BEV is already available in the Philippines, with an SRP of P4.828 million.