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Alt-Toyota: Toyota Lexcen

Updated: Jan 5

Platform sharing and collaborations seem novel today, but it's far from a new idea. In the series Alt-Toyota, we look back at some Toyota badged cars from other automakers and Toyota vehicles disguised under the styling of a different brand. Let's learn more about these Toyota alternatives you may not have known existed.

Let's go to Australia and take a gander at one of the strangest Toyota collaborations from the United Australian Automobile Industries firm, the Toyota Lexcen. In the late 1980s, a joint venture was founded by Toyota and Holden (General Motors of Australia) to essentially rebrand vehicles made in Australia by each company under each other's namesake. For Toyota, it was a way to sell more vehicles as foreign automakers had to pay higher tariffs along with having restrictions on how many vehicles could be produced annually in order to keep Australian-built products alive and well. In the past, Toyota had to undercut vehicles sold in the Australian market to make them affordable enough for the average consumer who might be cross-shopping a Holden or Australian Ford, this is most apparent for the beloved AE86 Toyota Sprinter that featured a Levin front only and the SOHC 4AC model to bring down costs, imagine a world without a true 4AGE AE86... this was it.

Holden at the time, was suffering through their own patch of poorly built vehicles and slow sales so they were in need of a manufacturing partner that was known for reliability, efficiency, and higher build quality on smaller vehicles. Holden previously had a partnership with Nissan that lasted a few years and helped save the company while also putting together the legendary, Aussie-spec RB30 engine, but a new deal was going to help both companies or at least that was the intention. Toyota already had a large market share of auto sales by the time the 1987 pact was formed, would it be worth trading cars with a brand going through such turmoil or did Toyota see something beyond the horizon?

Holden received a pretty good deal in terms of models they could rebadge as their own, they had the Holden Apollo which was a Toyota Camry, and the Holden Nova which was the Toyota Corolla, two vehicles that were top sellers with bulletproof reputations. Toyota however, received the vehicle this article is about, the VN Holden Commodore with a few styling changes that was named Lexcen. The name Lexcen comes from the designer of the Australia II sailboat that won the America's Cup in 1983, it was a confusing choice as the Lexus brand was simultaneously being introduced in Australia when these vehicles started sharing space on Toyota's showroom floors. With changes to the lighting, grill, and bumpers, Toyota had a relatively cheap vehicle they could sell in their dealerships without paying tariffs that ate into their bottom dollar, but it wasn't the payoff they potentially sought when they struck the deal that lasted nine long years.

The Toyota Lexcen was sold in two body styles, a wagon, and a sedan, but sadly with only one drivetrain configuration. While the Holden Commodore had a V8 and manual option, the Lexcen was only available with the Buick 3800, an engine found in different variations from 1961-2008. An automatic was sadly the only choice for the Lexcen, GM's Hydramatic 700 did daily duty but moving around this full-size vehicle with just 168 horsepower means it is far from exciting. The Lexcen/Commodore relationship continued on until 1997, spanning over the VP facelift and VR/VS updated models but not without significant issues that potentially made this deal pointless. The Commodore was known for shoddy build quality, this extended to the Lexcen, complaints about bad paint, ill-fitting panels, an interior that disintegrates, and faulty electronics can be found on any forum or review website which was very unToyota-like. Sold in low numbers due to usually having a higher MSRP than a comparable Commodore, Toyota did better at building cars for Holden for them to sell than they did trying to push a car that stood out on the showroom floor.

Overall, it probably wasn't worth creating the Toyota Lexcen, it was a car with questionable build quality that was also offered at the lowest spec Holden had to offer when trading vehicles. Holden, for better or for worse, went out of business officially in 2020 making way for GM Specialty Vehicles which now offer just four vehicles, gone now are the days of rebadged imports from other GM global brands that kept Holden afloat for multiple decades. Toyota on the other hand sells Australia's number one most purchased vehicle the Hilux, they also offer a wide variety of vehicles that we don't get here in the States such as the GR Yaris and Land Cruiser 300. What Toyota did by pairing up with Holden was generate a bit of extra revenue by supplying Holden with vehicles while increasing market share beyond what they already had in terms of sales. For Americans, the Toyota Lexcen is an oddity, a GM with a Toyota badge and not the other way around, while for Australians it's a part of car culture that brings up some laughable memories, they also apparently make for wickedly fast cars when swapped with high-performance engines due to their rear-wheel drive platform. If the Lexcen also introduced a variant of the 1JZ or 2JZ to the Aussie market as Nissan did when they delivered the RB30 then history could've been vastly different, sadly this is just a peculiar, albeit forgettable part of car history.

Until next time, enjoy some insane builds using these funky Toyota Lexcens below:

Carnage - We Make Our 1UZ-FE Toyota V8 Fit! - STREETMACHINETV

Toyota Lexcen V8 AWD | Ultimate Sleeper | MOTOR - Motor

Screaming Toyota Lexcen | 2JZ Power | Street Machine - STREETMACHINETV


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