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Baby Lexus to go hybrid

Talking BS: Lexus expects to launch its new small car by 2012.

Sub-IS Lexus hybrid to take on established Euro premium compact diesels

13 Nov 2008

LEXUS is planning to introduce a petrol-electric hybrid version of its forthcoming prestige compact car, which will be sold alongside conventional-engine versions next decade.

Dubbed the BS by some pundits, but known as the C-Premium within Lexus, the compact car will be markedly different to the dedicated hybrid concept that the Toyota-owned marque is expected to display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

That vehicle, rumoured to be called the HS250 Concept, is believed to be a four-door sedan derived from a modified version of the next-generation Toyota Prius’ front-wheel drive platform and powered by a 2.5-litre petrol/electric powerplant similar to that found in the existing US-market Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Not coincidentally, the production-ready version of the next-generation Prius will also make its world debut at the Detroit show.

Meanwhile, the BS will unique styling across sedan and/or hatchback bodystyles and could emulate the BMW 1 Series with a rear-wheel drive configuration.

Devised to take on the premium European small cars exemplified by the BMW as well as the Audi A3, the forthcoming compact is understood to be in co-development with the next-generation IS due about 2012.

This method mirrors BMW’s current ‘C’ and ‘D’ segment strategy, which has seen the E87 1 Series spun off the larger E90 3 Series architecture. The fact that there will be a hybrid version of the BS leads to the conclusion that a hybrid IS might also see the light of day when the all-new version arrives.

The BS hybrid will be built primarily for markets that traditionally eschew diesel power, meaning that Japan and North America would be first in line to receive the vehicle. A ‘BS’ diesel will also be offered mainly to please European buyers, who tend to prefer diesel power to petrol.

However, as is the case with the current diesel-powered IS220d sold overseas, a diesel BS will probably not be imported to Australia.

The sub-IS model is priority number one at Lexus at the moment as it seeks to weather the economic storm, lure more younger buyers and move in the general downsizing direction of the luxury car market.

31 center imageLeft: Lexus LFXh concept.

Lexus has even put the sub-RX luxury SUV (to be based on the LFXh concept) on hold as it focuses on bringing the BS to market.

“At one stage we were discussing the option of a vehicle below the RX, but at the time we felt that the priority would be for a car below the IS and not the RX,” Lexus Australia chief executive John Roca told GoAuto last week.

“Toyota Motor Corporation haven’t confirmed that car actually exists. But the feedback that Lexus is getting from every market around the world is that we have to counteract what our competitors are doing, particularly with the German marques, and we really do need a sub-IS car.

“And frankly it will come. But as to when is what we are trying to determine at the moment.” Mr Roca is confident the small car will arrive in Australia within the next three years.

“There are several (overseas) articles that quote 2011 (as a possible launch date) and I am hoping that this will be the timeframe,” he said. “That would be really good for us, (and) in terms of the model cycle for IS, it’s probably ideal.

“If we introduce a sub-IS vehicle, and then a new IS a year or two after that, then we will really start cooking with gas, and that’s what we need.

“And the good thing about that segment for us is, because we are not your traditional luxury marque, for somebody entering the luxury car market for the first time, they will think that Lexus is a very viable proposition because of its heritage with Toyota.

“(They know that) they will be stepping into a car of that size that is going to have quality, because the Lexus badge will convince them … and that it will be better than a Toyota, and that’s not bad either.

“So it’s a sort of win-win situation for us, while with our German counterparts from time to time tend their small cars are not much chop while their larger cars are better.” Mr Roca promised that the C-Premium would not be a restyled next-generation Toyota Corolla, or share major mechanical components with it.

“It will be a dedicated Lexus car, that I am certain of,” he said. “Whether it is rear-wheel drive, that has not been determined yet either. Frankly a car of that size, a front-wheel drive car in that category would be viable. But we are looking at a specific Lexus product.” Lexus’ two-pronged small-car strategy follows Toyota’s success with the Prius, which appeals to buyers who want to make an obvious public statement about their green-car credentials.

The dedicated hybrid version will be tailored for this group, while the ‘BS’ hybrid is likely to be a performance-edged low-emissions/economy model in the same vein as the larger GS450h hybrid is.

As GoAuto reported last month, Toyota Motor Europe president and CEO Tadashi Arashima confirmed Lexus’ plans to compete in the premium small car class. This followed a GoAuto report 12 months earlier revealing that an entry-level model plan had just been signed off by Lexus.

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