Lexus Accelerates into 2019

2019 ES. Courtesy of Lexus.

The luxury automaker has some exciting innovations according to the owner of Lexus of Louisville

By Steve Kaufman

Photos by Andrea Hutchinson

As the new year approaches, Americans’ minds turn to the traditional questions: How long before I break my new year’s resolutions? Who will win the Super Bowl? And what will the new model cars be like?

2018 NX. Courtesy of Lexus.

Lexus, the U.S. market’s second-largest luxury automobile brand, does not intend to be left at the light in 2019. The brand’s stable of models is being marketed as “most advanced ever,” “game-changer,” “first of its kind.”

Those are high bars, and yet, it’s what car owners have come to expect from the premium automobile brands. And Lexus has been right up there among the best, second only to Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. and in a virtual tie with BMW. Kelley Blue Book has called Lexus the “best overall luxury brand.”

Beyond the Specs

“We have some really exciting introductions in 2019,” said Walter Weibel, managing partner of Lexus of Louisville, located on Blankenbaker Road and Plantside Drive in Eastern Jefferson County.

He cited the new ES 350 Series, a total redesign of one of the company’s more popular-selling models, revealing that it’s “entirely new from the ground up, with a longer, wider stance and a sleek, coupe-like silhouette inherited from our flagship LS.”

There’s also the ES F Sport with a 302 horsepower, V-6 engine that gets 44 miles per gallon.

The RXL is a new long wheelbase version of the popular RX series.

The LX is the power SUV of the group, a 383-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 with 7,000 pounds of towing capacity.

And there are also the hybrids, like the top-of-the-line LC Hybrid – a 471-horsepower juggernaut with Lexus’ 10-speed automatic transmission – and the new LS 500, launched earlier this year as part of the LS series. “It’s a flagship car,” Weibel said of the first Lexus with a twin-turbocharged engine.

Plus, the full Lexus line features innovative entertainment systems; Apple CarPlay (for efficient and safe use of iPhones in the car); advanced Mark Levinson sound systems; digital performance dashboards modeled after Lexus’ LFA two-seater sports cars; and the Lexus Enform navigation system, with on-board Wi-Fi and remote smartwatch functionality that offers a 24/7 live person  to answer calls and provide directions.

“One of the things that makes Lexus special is its focus on both performance and luxury,” Weibel said. “When the Japanese design these cars, they spend a lot of time and attention on ergonomic detail for comfort, luxury and beauty, as well as what’s under the hood.”

Tenors and Homers

Weibel has been in the automobile business for 32 years, but it’s not necessarily what he ever had in mind growing up. He was born in New York. His father, William Weibel, was an assistant conductor at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

“I grew up around opera,” he said, “but I also loved cars. I played a game with myself in which I could identify the make and year of any passing automobile.”

He loved baseball, too, playing third base and right field for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. “I had a good arm and I could hit.”

But not well enough for the pros. So when college ended, he moved to Houston, where his father had become the artistic director of Houston’s Opera in the Heights.

Walter Weibel.

Magic Moments

Every life has those unexpected intersections that end up changing everything. Weibel’s life has had two such moments.

“In Houston, I lived in an apartment building and there was a BMW that parked in the spot next to mine,” he recalled. “I fell in love with that car. But I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life until (I got) a recommendation that I go meet someone at a BMW car dealership.”

Lexus LX 570.

He sold BMWs and owned dealerships for 12 years in Houston and then spent another 12 years selling for Mercedes-Benz.

He moved to Louisville when the Lexus dealership, formerly part of the Sam Swope Auto Group, was for sale. “I came here for an opportunity to become a partner in the dealership,” he said. “I’d never sold Lexus. I’d never thought about moving to Louisville.”

Both changes have worked out well for him.

Lexus GX460.

 “This is a great town and a great market,” he said. “It’s also an intimate market, so you get to know your customer base really well. It forces you to focus on making every experience a good one. Good word-of-mouth can be terrific for you – but also, in a market like this, bad word-of-mouth could be devastating.”

Lexus ES 350 F Sport.

 His word-of-mouth must be good: The dealership has a 70 percent loyalty rate.

Oh, that other magic moment? He met his wife, Valinda, in a Houston restaurant 32 years ago. They were married eight months later.

So, how does she like Louisville?

“She loves it like I do,” said Weibel. “She grew up around horses and was a trail rider in Houston. She now has her horse here.”

That’s horsepower, the Kentucky version. V