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Lexus Oz bids for small hybrid

Yes, please: Lexus Australia has asked for the LF-Ch small car, which will be a dedicated hybrid.

Dedicated Lexus hybrid emerges at Frankfurt as Australia puts its case

21 Sep 2009

LEXUS Australia has voted with its feet for a production version of the LF-Ch concept.

The smallest Lexus – as well as the first Lexus hatchback and, possibly, the first front-drive Lexus – made its highly-anticipated global debut at last week’s Frankfurt motor show and Lexus Australia chief executive John Roca was there to lobby for a production version for Australia.

Mr Roca said he expected Australia’s case would be boosted by the fact that, apart from being right-hand drive, Lexus vehicles sold in our market are the same “W-spec” models as sold in Europe.

“If you look at the compact segment it’s increasing in a declining market,” he said. “It’s a segment that we believe Lexus would do really well in, so we want to voice our support for W-spec and for that car to be produced and, if it is being produced, not only for Europe but Australia and New Zealand as well.

31 center imageLeft: Lexus LF-Ch. Below: Lexus Australia chief executive John Roca.

“One of the keys for coming here is a mutual respect for the Japanese Toyota and Lexus way, where we can say in a face to face meeting that we’re serious about this car and we’ve flown all the way to Europe in difficult times to support the car and support our desire to have it.” Few firm technical details have been revealed about the first five-seat, five-door Lexus – other than the surprise confirmation it will be a dedicated hybrid-only model, which Mr Roca does not believe will prevent it from become the top-selling Lexus model in Australia.

“We’ve done the research. We see it (premium compact) as a segment that requires Lexus representation and I think it has potential for being our volume car. If not, it will be at least on par with IS and RX,” he said.

Asked if he thought the dedicated-hybrid LF-Ch could still be priced under $50,000 or the IS250’s $58,990 starting price, Mr Roca said: “That may be something that grows as the product range grows.

‘I think it would be ideal to have the car sub-50 and I think people will pay up to $75,000 for it, given it is a dedicated hybrid and the options that will be available with it.” Mr Roca stressed that the Toyota Corolla/Prius-based small car had not been confirmed as a front-drive model but might in fact become all-wheel drive – a move that would see it follow the drive layout of Audi’s A3 and the Mercedes-Benz A and B-class, but not BMW’s rear-drive 1 Series.

“I don’t think it has been confirmed as a front-wheel drive. Being European there’s talk of all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive.” He said the aggressive Simon Humphries design was what customers have been looking for from Lexus.

“I love it. It’s certainly aggressive but it’s a direction we want to take. We’ve discussed many times how people perceive the brand as lacking a bit of desirability in terms of what they look at in the vehicle itself, so this is definitely a step in the right direction.

“It’s a larger car than we thought it would be but we have no indication of production dimensions yet.” Rumours of the compact Lexus model’s existence first surfaced at the 2007 Tokyo motor show, when GoAuto revealed the C-Premium codename under which it was being developed.

European reports suggest the production version of the LF-Ch, which could be called the BS300, will appear at the Geneva motor show in March 2010, while Mr Roca told us in July he expected the seventh Lexus model to go on sale in Australia in early 2011.

In presenting the first small Lexus concept at Frankfurt, the European chief of Toyota’s luxury division, Andy Pfeiffenberger, described the LF-Ch as the world’s first compact premium hybrid model, but gave no hints at a production schedule.

“Let me stress that you are not looking at a market study or hearing about vague intentions. This LF-Ch concept is a clear indication of our entry plans for the compact premium segment in the near future, with the world’s first-ever premium compact, full hybrid,” said Mr Pfeiffenberger.

“That distinction will make this dynamic car stand out in what will be Europe’s largest premium segment. That makes LF-Ch both a gateway to the Lexus brand and an impressive car in its own right.

“All Lexus cars share the unique Lexus design philosophy – ‘L-finesse’ – and our C-Premium concept is no exception.

“The car appeals to the heart, but also to the head. It features the quality and intelligence you’d associate with Lexus. By combining a wide track, a rigid body structure and a low centre of gravity with the hybrid power train, drivers will enjoy an engaging, yet uniquely refined drive experience.

“They can also expect very low CO2, and minimal NOx and particulate emissions.

That means Lexus drivers can enjoy the premium drive experience they seek while making far less impact on the environment. In electric mode LF-Ch is ultra-clean producing ‘zero emissions’ and enabling virtually silent running.” In Europe, 75 per cent of Lexus GS and LS sales are hybrids, while 95 per cent of RX sales in Germany are hybrids.

At the same time, the proportion of diesel vehicle sales in Europe has dropped from 75 to 49 per cent, while some estimates predict the percentage to fall to just 41 in Germany next year.

“One of the things I learned at this show is that there are about 15 shades of green,” said Mr Roca. “Everybody’s talking environmentally friendly but we’re the only ones that are dark green with cars in traffic.

“This is a dark green car for a dark green segment in my view, because the younger the person the darker green they are.” Asked if entering a growing new market segment with a dedicated-hybrid model was a gamble, Mr Roca said: “Maybe for some, but given that eventually we’ll probably end up with a full range of hybrid cars I don’t think it’s a gamble at all – it’s just the direction we’ve taken.

“And looking at what will happen with Euro 6 emissions and the development of a diesel engine that will meet that and discussions with some of the Europeans including our competitors about what it’s going to cost to produce a Euro 6 diesel, I think we’re starting to get it right.

“I’m more confident about our direction than ever before when it comes to hybrid.”

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