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Lexus CT200h from under $50K

Raising the stakes: Lexus hopes its CT200h will capitalise on the growing luxury-compact market.

Sub-$50,000 starting price confirmed for all-new Lexus CT200h in Australia

Lexus logo4 Oct 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

LEXUS has confirmed its first compact hatchback, the all-new CT200h, will be priced from under $50,000 when it goes on sale in Australia in the first quarter of next year, following its Australian debut at the Sydney motor show on October 15 and the start of production in December.

That will make the world’s first compact hybrid luxury car, which last week made its global public premiere in final production form at the Paris motor show, at least $6000 more affordable than Lexus Australia’s current range-opener, the IS250 Prestige sedan ($55,900).

However, the CT200h will not match the admission price of its most direct rivals, the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz B-class, Mini Clubman, Volvo C30 and Alfa Romeo’s forthcoming Giulietta, which like its competitors is expected to be priced from under $40,000.

31 center imageThe hybrid-only CT200h is powered exclusively by a modified version of Toyota’s 1.8-litre petrol-electric drive system from the Prius.

Lexus Australia chief executive Tony Cramb said price and specification negotiations with Japan will not be finalised until the end of this year at the earliest, but confirmed the sub-$50K starting price for what will become the only front-wheel drive model in the Lexus range.

“Unfortunately, pricing is not finally decided for Australia at this point in time, but what I can confirm is that it will be less than IS250,” said Mr Cramb in Paris last week.

“Furthermore, we will be looking to price CT right at the heart of this segment to really compete, which is another way of saying this car will be priced from under $50,000 in Australia.” The RX crossover range – including the RX450h hybrid – has been the top-selling Lexus model in Australia in recent years, but so far this year has been outsold by the IS sedan line-up, a 24 per cent sales increase for which has helped lift local Lexus sales by more than 16 per cent.

Next month’s release of the facelifted IS sedan range – which will remain without a hybrid variant but will include a more powerful 3.5-litre IS350 variant for the first time – should bolster the mid-size luxury sedan’s position as Lexus Australia’s most popular model.

Lexus Australia will not say whether it expects the CT200h to become its biggest-selling model but is confident its third volume-selling model can claim a large slice of one of Australia’s (and the world’s) fastest-growing vehicle segments.

As in Europe, small (C-segment) vehicles now account for more than one-fifth of all local luxury car sales.

Lexus Europe vice-president Andy Pfeiffenberger said in Paris that Lexus Europe’s fifth hybrid model (and Australia’s fourth) would come with a sub-€30,000 ($A42,500) entry price when it goes on sale in November.

Mr Pfeiffenberger said Lexus would become an all-hybrid brand by 2015 in Europe, where hybrids already account for 62 per cent of Lexus sales.

He said the CT200h would help double Lexus Europe sales by 2012, having the potential to become “a genuine game-changer” that will establish a “bridge” for customers between the Toyota and Lexus brands.

Lexus has no such plans for Australia but, like parent company Toyota, has committed to offering a hybrid version of every model in its range by 2020.

“We think this is the biggest launch for Lexus Australia since 1995 when we launched the Lexus RX,” said Mr Cramb, who described the CT as a new “gateway” model for Lexus that will draw a new, younger group of customers the brand.

“Some 47 per cent of the buyers in this (compact luxury car) segment are under 45 and this is an important area of growth for us. Currently our average owner is 53 years of age, but with the introduction of IS250C and the forthcoming introductions of IS350 and CT that age is clearly going to decrease.

“Our aims for CT are clearly pretty simple. We’re going to attract a younger audience to the brand, we’re going to solidify our lead in hybrid technology, we’re going to enhance Lexus Australia sales by introducing a third volume vehicle line, and we’re going to provide a gateway vehicle for first-time luxury buyers.” Lexus also claims the CT200 hybrid will draw many buyers away from established brands in the compact luxury class.

“The compact luxury segment in Australia is in need of a shake-up and CT is just the car to do this,” said Mr Cramb.

“The ‘C premium’ segment is one of the fastest-growing luxury segments in Australia – in fact, it has more than doubled since 2004. Last year alone, the segment grew 10.4 per cent over the previous year and this year that growth will continue at an even faster pace.

“The compact segment in the luxury market in Australia now represents over 20 per cent of luxury vehicle sales, so it’s a significant segment. Within this segment we have six competitive marques offering up to 34 engine variants across both petrol and diesel drivetrains.” The final production version of the CT, which was styled by the Lexus Design Center at Toyota City in Japan, is very different to the concept that previewed it, the LF-Ch, which was styled by Toyota’s European design centre, ED2.

The CT’s design program began in 2007 and was completed this year, with the final result including a front-end based on a design by ED2 and a rear-end and interior styled by Toyota’s North American design studio, CALTY.

Lexus said research conducted last year showed that 41 per cent of Australians intending to buy a vehicle in the $40,000-$60,000 price bracket voted the CT as their favourite in terms of styling and design, making it more than twice as popular as its nearest rival.

Lexus Australia said 78 per cent of those surveyed “really liked” the CT’s exterior design, and some 84 per cent its interior.

“Apart from segment-leading style and design, CT brings segment-leading driving dynamics and handling, an innovative driveline, the lowest emissions in its class, greater levels of standard specification, class-leading safety and, of course, choice in the compact premium segment, which is good for everyone,” said Mr Cramb.

“It’s for these reasons that we believe CT will become a strong conquest vehicle for Lexus.” Australians are unlikely to be granted access to the most fuel-efficient version of the CT200h, which in Europe will return Prius-beating average fuel consumption of 3.8L/100km and CO2 emissions of 87g/km. Instead, Australian-delivered CTs should return about 4.1L/100km and 96g/km.

However, the Australian model will be well-equipped, with eight airbags, electronic stability and traction control, alloy wheels and dual-zone climate-control as standard, while options or flagship models should include leather seat trim, powered front seats, 17-inch wheels and satellite-navigation.

“With CT200h, we believe we’ll be attracting people who wish to lower their emissions without lowering their standards,” said Mr Cramb. “That’s why the CT200h is a true Lexus, offering no compromise on the ownership experience that has made Lexus famous.

“For the first time, the new CT will bring the unique Lexus combination of unmatched quality and sophistication and high levels of technology with unsurpassed customer service to the premium compact segment, and we certainly haven’t compromised when it comes to driving pleasure.” GoAuto drove the CT200h as part of the global media launch in Paris last week and will bring you our first drive report when the worldwide press embargo on driving impressions lifts on October 14.

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