Lexus, the largest luxury brand in the U.S., is giving serious thought to launching a new, downsized luxury model, and could bring it to market within the next couple years, the brand’s general manager told TheDetroitBureau.com.
How soon and precisely what form the new product will take remains uncertain, though it’s likely to have many of the characteristics of the LF-Ch concept vehicle that the Toyota luxury division unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, in September. Downsizing is particularly critical, said Lexus General Manager Mark Templin, to the marque’s planned expansion around the world.
“There is a group of buyers growing up now who won’t buy cars by the pound,” noted Templin, adding that, “We have already seen a structural shift” to the smaller and lower-priced segments of the luxury market over the last couple years.
The so-called Premium Luxury segments have been especially hard-hit by the recession, analysts offering a variety of suggestions why, including the possibility the most affluent buyers don’t want to be seen flaunting their wealth at a time when their companies may be cutting back. But it also appears that even those who don’t worry about appearances may simply be finding smaller vehicles more attractive.
So, said Templin, “Going forward, there may be a need for even smaller luxury cars,” but they won’t necessarily be targeting the budget-constrained “entry-luxury” buyer that today goes for such Lexus models as the ES and IS lines.
“We’re not going to build a smaller vehicle with all that technology (found in the likes of a top-line LS sedan) and knock the price down,” the executive stressed. “Just because it’s small doesn’t mean cheap.”
The LF-Ch concept will reappear at the Los Angeles Auto Show, early next month, then move on to the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, in January. Lexus will be carefully measuring consumer reaction to the 5-door premium hatchback, which is comparable in size to the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series.
If response is solid, Templin said a production edition “potentially” will appear in Lexus showrooms by 2012, and perhaps even earlier.
In concept form, LF-Ch was shown with a hybrid badge, though company sources caution that a conventional powertrain is more likely, at least initially, in a production Lexus small car.
Like its “bigger brother,” Toyota, the Lexus brand has been exploring its options for alternative power. Until recently, the company was reluctant to commit beyond the conventional hybrid technology that has shown up in products ranging from the Toyota Prius to the Lexus flagship, the LS600h.
Now that Toyota is opening its doors to more advanced, lithium-ion-based systems, Lexus might not be far behind, Templin cautiously hinted.
“It’s all about the future of the battery,” the executive emphasized, adding that it will take the lead from Toyota, but that could mean new electric propulsion technology for the luxury brand.
Infiniti, the Nissan luxury arm, recently committed to adding a battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, and during the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, a variety of other premium marques revealed plans of their own, including Audi, which is likely to bring the e-tron battery sports car to market early in the next decade. With Lexus traditionally positioning itself as the greenest of premium manufacturers, it will likely have no choice but to also push beyond hybrids in the coming decade, sources stressed to TheDetroitBureau.com.