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First Look: Lexus LF-CC Concept

Can passion and hybrids co-exist?

by on Sep.27, 2012

The Lexus LF-CC Concept appears to be very, very close to production-ready.

Lexus has been dropping a number of surprises in recent months – all meant to demonstrate that it’s serious about pumping more “passion” into the brand.

The latest effort, the LF-CC Concept, may be the most aggressive example of that to date, taking the maker’s L Finesse design language to new extremes — with a bold new iteration of the Lexus spindle grille that has become the symbol of the brand’s new direction.

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Likely to return in production form, the Lexus LF-CC is making its formal debut at this year’s Paris Motor Show.  And it also emphasizes that the Japanese brand’s love affair with hybrid technology isn’t cooling down.

The brand’s U.S. boss, Mark Templin, told TheDetroitBureau.com last month that by mid-decadeLexus will have eight, possibly even nine, gas-electric offerings in its line-up.

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Ford Amps Up Investment in Electric Vehicles

Maker targets more battery vehicles at a lower cost.

by on Aug.16, 2012

Ford plans to rapidly increase the number of battery vehicles in its line-up and boost production capacity while also driving down costs.

Ford Motor Co., despite the feeble growth of sales of hybrids and electric vehicles, has no intention of backing off its ambitious plans to build more electric vehicles.  Instead, the automaker has announced plans to invest another $135 million to design, engineer and test future battery-based vehicles.

Joe Bakaj, Ford vice president of powertrain engineering, said the investment will include hiring more engineers to work on electric vehicle projects alongside the 1,000 experts it already has working on EV projects at its engineering campus in Dearborn at what the company is now calling the Advanced Electrification Center. Ford continues to build its electrified team having hired 60 engineers in the past year with plans to fill more positions in the next few months.

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While the price of gasoline continues to fluctuate, the long-term trend in fuel prices is upwards and consumers around the world are demanding greater fuel efficiency, Bakaj said. “Sixty percent of our customers say they would consider a hybrid if the price was equal to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine,” he said.

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Hybrids, Supercars and Compact Crossovers: Lexus Looking at Future Product Options

But don’t expect the Japanese luxury maker to keep up with its German rivals.

by on Aug.10, 2012

Expect to see the Lexus "spindle" grille on more products in the future.

Shifting market trends have changed the face of the automotive luxury market – leading some manufacturers to flood showrooms with new models. By comparison to its German rivals, Lexus has taken a relatively cautious approach to product proliferation but that may have to change, suggested the Toyota luxury brands top U.S. executive.

While Mark Templin, general manager of the Toyota luxury brand, insists he is “not a big fan of” the rampant product proliferation “that calls for having 100 different models in your line-up,” he told TheDetroitBureau.com that Lexus is closely evaluating market trends and may very well need to add new models in the not-too-distant future.

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The biggest challenge, he laughed, is that, “We’re running out of the alphabet,” as makers not only add more models but shift to alphanumeric naming policies.

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Lexus Looks for Big Surge in Sales

New products, full production should drive brand's recovery.

by on Jun.13, 2012

The 2013 Lexus ES300h is one of nine new models the maker is launching this year.

Lexus is looking to an unprecedented array of new products, along with a revitalized production system to help it recover from last year’s sharp sales slide.

Long the U.S. luxury sales leader, Lexus suffered a sharp decline in 2011 under an assault by key German rivals compounded by the production cuts that followed Japan’s devastating March earthquake and tsunami.  The Toyota subsidiary wound up in third place for the year, behind both BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

But barring the collapse of the U.S. market, Lexus officials are anticipating a sales increase of as much as 25% for all of 2012, along with a several point increase in market share. However, it doesn’t appear the brand is in the running to regain its segment leadership.

“I don’t believe we’re going to put up the numbers,” said Tim Morrison, vice president of sales for Lexus, in part because “the Germans have much more extensive product lines.”

Indeed, BMW, Mercedes and Audi have been flooding dealers with all manner of new models in recent years and Morrison cautioned that, “I don’t think you’re going to see us match that.”

Nonetheless, Lexus isn’t sitting on the sidelines.  All told, the maker plans to launch nine new or significantly updated products this year alone – a figure that jumps to an even dozen if you include F-Sport performance versions of three other models including the RX crossover.

Morrison and other Lexus executives were in Detroit to show off one of those new offerings, the ES sedan.  For 2013 it gets a new chassis that grows an inch overall, an all-new hybrid powertrain, and a new look strongly influenced by the 2012 Lexus GS, with its distinctive “spindle grille” that will become the new face for the Japanese brand.

The new ES arrives a little too late in the year – sales launching in the U.S. in August – to have a major impact on 2012 volume but it will move Lexus in the right direction, stressed Morrison.  The outgoing sedan could reliably be expected to generate about 3,500 sales a month but the new Lexus ES is projected to boost that to 5,000 – about a quarter of that higher volume coming from the new new ES 300h hybrid.

The maker is also hoping to draw in younger buyers with the 2013 ES, something that has proven to be a serious challenge for the Lexus brand, as a whole, which has had a problem reaching beyond aging Baby Boomers.  If the new ES succeeds it could see an average buyer age of around 50, almost a decade younger than the current model.

The addition of the new ES, along with updates of models including the GS and critical RX, will clearly help Lexus gain momentum.  But the primary factor in its recovery will be the fact that all its plants are now operating at full speed again.

In the wake of last year’s natural disaster, Toyota lost 100s of thousands of units of production among all its brands, some model lines only reaching full capacity again by the end of 2011.  The situation was compounded by flooding in Thailand, last autumn, which caused further production delays.

Add competitive pressures and Lexus saw sales plunge to just 197,234, down from 228,129 in 2010.

Toyota is bullish about the U.S. automotive recovery, predicting the total new vehicle market will rise 1.5 million units to 14.4 million, the luxury market posting an especially strong resurgence.

For the first five months of 2012, Lexus sales are up 20%, year-over-year.  The maker expects that to reach 25%, sales for the full year projected to reach 250,000.

Demand for hybrids has clearly helped Lexus which offers more gas-electric models than any of its competitors.  The spring surge in U.S. fuel prices only fed consumer desire for hybrids.  But with fuel prices slipping in recent weeks, Morrison conceded that demand for the dedicated hybrid model, the CT200h has been slipping.

On the other hand, the hybrid version of the maker’s crossover, the RX450, “doesn’t seem to react to the price of gas.”

As TheDetroitBureau.com reported this week, Honda plans to curb exports of Japanese-made products to the U.S. market due to the lopsided dollar/yen exchange rate.  (Click Here for that story.)

As for Lexus, Morrison said there are no plans to cut Lexus exports to the States.  On the other hand, there is an ongoing “conversation” about shifting more Lexus production to the U.S. — which accounts for about half the brand’s global volume – “to blunt the effect of currency exchange rates.”

But, so far, there are no firm plans in place to move models like the ES to one of Toyota’s North American assembly plants.

Joe Szczesny contributed to this report.

Bye-Bye Lexus HS250h, We Hardly Knew Ye – nor Cared

Lexus hybrid quietly slips into oblivion.

by on May.17, 2012

Oh, they're not building it anymore?

You might not have noticed.  Indeed, it seems pretty much everyone but the folks on the assembly line missed the fact that the Lexus HS250h went out of production back in January.

And no surprise.  Even at its launch in mid-2009 normally upbeat U.S. officials for the Toyota luxury brand were already making apologies for what was billed as the first dedicated Lexus hybrid.  It was cramped and slow, with a strangely laid-out interior that hardly supported the marketing claim that it was a high-mileage luxury car.

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Consumers all but ignored the Lexus HS250h, sales plunging to a marginal 2,864 last year, down a whopping 73% from 2010’s already anemic numbers.

Lexus allowed the HS to go gently into the automotive equivalent of that good, dark night and its departure might not have been noticed had it not been for a question posed by Inside Line.

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Lexus Teases Upcoming LF-Gh Preview

More aggressive design to replace current GS hybrid.

by on Apr.05, 2011

Lexus offers a hint of what's in store when it launches the new LF-Gh Concept at the New York Auto Show.

Lexus is providing a first look at the new hybrid model it plans to introduce at the New York Auto Show, later this month – or, more precisely, a pair of teaser shots that give just a wee hint of what’s in store when Toyota’s luxury brand brings its latest gas-electric model to market.

The name, LF-Gh, we’re told, stands for Lexus Future Grand Touring Hybrid, and indications are this new model could replace the aging GS-450h hybrid that’s been around for half a decade.

What seems certain is that the maker wants to pump a little more passion into a brand that is showing some signs of trouble.  The luxury sales leader in the U.S. market for a number of years, demand has been slipping, in recent months – embarrassingly, Buick outsold Lexus during January and February – and may reflect what critics contend is the plain vanilla nature of much of the Lexus line-up.

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If the front-end close-up is any indication, this latest exercise in the Lexus L-Finesse design language is moving in a more European direction, the hockey stick-like LED driving lights clearly influenced by Audi’s latest offerings.

“Through this exercise,” says the text accompanying the two teaser shots, “the marque’s design philosophy…has been refined and evolved to include a bolder, more distinct projection of what a luxury car could become in a modern world.”

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Lexus Increasing Dependence On Hybrids

But luxury maker struggling with flaws HS250h.

by on Dec.09, 2010

Lexus is betting heavily on hybrids, like the CT200h, despite some setbacks.

As it races to the wire, Lexus is once again aiming to end the year as the nation’s leading luxury nameplate – and its heavy dependence on hybrid-electric technology is one reason it would get there.

The first high-line brand to introduce a hybrid-electric vehicle, Lexus now has more HEVs in its line-up than any other luxury brand – and the list is about to grow, with the launch of the new CT200h. (Click Here for a review of the 2011 Lexus CT200h.)

But not all of the Toyota subsidiary’s hybrids have performed equally well.  Insiders lament the lackluster performance of the first dedicated Lexus model, the HS250h, while the LS600h, the most expensive model in the Lexus line-up – other than the limited-edition LF-A supercar – has been lagging initial expectations.

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Nonetheless, Lexus manager Brian Bolain says the trendline is moving in the right direction, and that hybrid sales are expected to surge from around 30,000 to 42,000 with the addition of the 2011 CT200h.  Measured in terms of share, the technology accounts for about 13% of the brand’s overall volume, with Lexus aiming to boost that to at least 18%.

“We’re looking at the CT200h being a game-changing opportunity for us,” said Bolain, during a recent preview of the new hybrid.

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First Drive: 2011 Lexus CT200h

Balancing mileage and performance.

by on Dec.06, 2010

The Lexus CT200h is the Toyota luxury brand's fifth hybrid offering.

Say the word, “hybrid,” and you’re likely to respond with, “Toyota.”  And for good reason, considering the maker accounts for 75% of the gas-electric vehicles currently on the road, primarily in the form of the Toyota Prius.

But the Japanese maker’s luxury marque has arguably made an even bigger commitment to hybrid technology, with four models already accounting for nearly 15% of its total volume.  Now comes number five and, if Lexus planners have done their homework, the launch of the new CT200h could bump that figure notably higher.

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Early on, Lexus saw hybrid technology as a way to deliver better performance without the mileage impact of offering bigger engines.  That controversial approach was abandoned with the launch of the HS250h, the brand’s first dedicated – read: Prius-like – hybrid.  Sadly, the HS proved that there’s still room to deliver a truly mediocre product in today’s market, even senior Lexus officials apologizing for the quirky little cars mostly unappealing quirks.

With the launch of the 2011 Lexus CT200h, the maker hopes to get things in better balance, using its high-tech, Prius-derived drivetrain to not only deliver solid fuel economy, but also to boost the fun-to-drive quotient of what might otherwise be a lackluster Euro-styled hatchback.

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Lexus Bringing CT200h to U.S. for 2011

First dedicated hybrid in premium compact segment.

by on Mar.22, 2010

The 2011 Lexus CT200h will be the first dedicated hybrid in the compact luxury segment.

Lexus will add a second hybrid-only model to its line-up for 2011.  The CT200h will be the first dedicated gas-electric entry into the premium compact segment.

The 2011 Lexus CT200h made its debut, early this month, at the Geneva Motor Show.  The maker described it as a perfect fit for a small but growing segment of “eco-conscious” European consumers who want hybrid power, rather than the diesel drivetrains that have come to dominate the Continental market.

There was some question about if and when the small hybrid would make it to the States, but Lexus now confirms the CT200h will roll it into showrooms here for the coming model-year, and will make its public debut at the upcoming New York International Auto Show.

“The CT200h is expected to lead the class in fuel economy and deliver low emissions,” claims Mark Templin, general manager of Toyota’s luxury marque.

The new hybrid, he added, will be positioned to young buyers as an “eco-conscous” offering that will “xymbolize urban, luxury living.”

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The 2011 Lexus CT200h will be the smallest of the brand’s expanding line-up of hybrids, a list that already includes gas-electric versions of the GS, RX and LS models, as well as the first dedicated Lexus hybrid, the HS 250h.

The CT200h will be powered by a 1.8-liter inline-four cylinder gasoline engine that uses the more efficient Atkinson cycle, and which features Lexus’ Variable Valve Timing with intelligence, or VVT-I, system.  It will be mated to the Lexus Hybrid Drive technology, which features two motor generators.

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Lexus Hybrids Clock 5.5 Billion Miles

Recall or not, Toyota’s Luxury brand leads in hybrid technology.

by on Mar.08, 2010

Lexus has lead U.S. luxury sales for ten straight years. Can it repeat in the face of recalls?

Lexus says that it now has more than 190,000 hybrids on the road, and they have traveled more than an estimated 5.5 billion miles – if you use 10,000 miles annually and global sales numbers.

In it’s latest attempt to overcome the negative publicity surrounding  Toyota and Lexus recalls, Lexus has launched for the first-time a marketing campaign that showcases all four of its hybrid vehicles currently on sale in the U.S. – the RX 400h, GS 450h, LS 600h and HS 250h. (The recently announced Lexus CT 200h will be the fifth Lexus hybrid when it appears.)

“We are very proud of our leadership in luxury hybrids and have created a campaign that lets consumers know that at Lexus, hybrids aren’t just a concept for a future car, but vehicles that have been on the road for five years,” states Dave Nordstrom, vice president of marketing for Lexus. “We will continue to explore groundbreaking technologies that will allow us to expand our hybrid offerings and remain at the forefront of alternative-fuel vehicle development.”

The new “multiplatform” campaign, promoting – critics might say bombastically hyping products from the Number One selling luxury brand in the U.S. for ten years running – debuted this past weekend.    (more…)