Join Larry Chen as he watches Lexus build the first GX 550


Touring any automotive production facility is a real treat for us gearheads, but touring a Toyota plant is an especially rare treat, because that Japanese automaker is behind the legendary Toyota Production System, a revolutionary methodology to improve the way cars are built that has since been adopted by nearly every automaker, not to mention thousands of factories that produce other things.

In the latest episode of his series Capturing Car Culture, videographer and photographer Larry Chen gets the chance to tour the assembly plant in Tahara, Japan, home of the Lexus GX and the Toyota 4Runner, among other vehicles. The timing of Larry’s visit is particularly interesting, as Lexus is in the midst of a monumental changeover: After thirteen years of making the second-generation Lexus GX, it is switching to the third-generation.

As witness to this transition, Chen captures the moment that the last-ever V-8-powered Lexus GX 460 makes its way through the production line. “It’s so cool to watch happen, you know, because for a car nerd, especially a Toyota nerd like myself, this means a lot,” says Chen in the video. “Since the start of the GX production line, they’ve always been made here in the plant. The fact that we got to watch the actual changeover is just so cool.”

The GX has enjoyed V-8 power since its debut in 2002 as the GX 470. At that time, it used the contemporary version of Toyota’s legendary 2UZ-FE V-8, which displaced 4.7 liters and produced 235 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. An upgraded version of the engine debuted for the 2005 model year and bumped horsepower to 270. A five-speed automatic was the only transmission offered.

Most of these GXs found their way into suburban driveways during their first tour of duty. However, off-road enthusiasts, keen to get their hands on proven Toyota machinery with an added dose of luxury, began scouring the aftermarket for used GXs immediately, knowing that they could get a remarkably capable car with a generally spotless service history for cheap. These trucks were the perfect candidates for thousands of remarkable overlanding rigs.

The second generation of the GX, the GX 460, arrived in 2009. That car used a 4.6-liter V-8 good for 301 hp and 329 lb-ft, and a new six-speed automatic replaced the old five-speed unit. Though the car experienced a handful of minor changes, the most significant of which was a facelift in 2013, it soldiered on until last year largely as the same machine that had debuted 13 years prior.

Brandan Gillogly

The new GX 550 is a radical change for the nameplate and helps mark the next generation of Toyota and Lexus engineering. It retains a handsome, upright design that, if the rest of the truck is properly equipped, looks quite capable of handling rugged trails. The most significant updates to the GX are under its skin. For the first time, the GX will utilize twin-turbo V-6 power, like the current Toyota Tundra and Sequoia (both of which also ride on Toyota’s new TNGA-F architecture). In the GX, the new engine is good for 349 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, massive gains over the outgoing GX. Even more significant: Lexus says a hybrid version is coming to the U.S. market at a later date.

In the video, Chen captures a moment where the first new chassis for the GX 550 actually gets fixed to a two-chassis jig with the final frame for the GX 460. Both frames go through the same rinse and chemical dip treatment. “[Those two different chassis sharing the same rig for early treatment] just goes to show you that they’re putting just as much effort into the old one as the new one,” says Chen.

Brandan Gillogly

As the video progresses, note Larry’s fascination with just how advanced the manufacturing process is for a modern automobile. Having been fortunate enough to tour the production facilities of a few manufacturers, I echo his fascination. This is manufacturing at its peak; watching the process from start to finish is as interesting as it gets.

Toyota’s enthusiast trucks and SUVS—everything from the Tundra to the Tacoma, the Sequoia to the Land Cruiser, and even up to Lexus with the GX 550 and the LX 600—are in the midst of a radical transformation right now. Just today, Lexus announced that it intends to be all-electric by the middle of next decade. In the interim, however, we’ll be curious to see what reception is like for the new GX. We’re hoping to get some time behind the wheel of the new GX early next year, so stay tuned.

The changing of the guard for any enthusiast vehicle is usually a somber moment, as something beloved gives way to an unknown thing. Chen, however, seems quite optimistic about what he sees in the new GX. Be sure to check out the full episode of Larry Chen’s Capturing Car Culture to see an in-depth look at one of the automotive world’s most advanced and impressive facilities.




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