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Lexus shoots for hybrid stars

ES appeal: Lexus’ new ES300h mid-sizer will be one of three new petrol-electric offerings to appear over the next nine months.

Half of all Lexus models sold in Australia could soon be petrol-electric hybrids

Lexus logo4 Jun 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

LEXUS Australia believes hybrid vehicles may account for half of all its sales inside five years, as it gears up for the introduction of three new petrol-electric offerings.

The company said last week further expansion into the petrol-electric hybrid market was a crucial part of its ambitious plan to close the sales gap to its German rivals.

The brand announced plans to add another two hybrid variants to its range by early next year: the ES300h mid-sized sedan and a new entry version of the larger GS, called the GS300h.

The new volume-selling IS range will also be replaced in July this year, and the company has already confirmed it will offer the first hybrid version of that car.

By next year, the company will sell seven hybrid variants across six model lines: in order, the CT200h, IS300h, ES300h, GS300h, GS450h, LS600h and RX450h.

In other words, every member of the Japanese company’s range will be available with a hybrid option, with the exception of the niche Toyota LandCruiser-based LX off-roader.

Hybrids already account for a greater proportion of Lexus’ sales here than any other brand – at around 30 per cent – but the company is confident this figure could climb as high as 50 per cent.

This still pales next to the brand’s returns in parts of Europe, with hybrid sales there making up as much as 80 per cent of its business. In Britain, it is almost exclusively a hybrid company, with the emissions-based tax structure pricing its traditional six-cylinder petrol engines out of contention.

 center imageFrom top: Lexus CT 200h, LS 600h, GS 450h and RX 450h.

Much of the brand’s relative success in the hybrid space is due to its early adopter status (alongside parent company Toyota), although its refusal to offer high-performance, fuel-sipping diesel engines to match the Germans naturally plays a role as well.

Lexus Australia CEO Sean Hanley says now is the time to strike with even more offerings Down Under, citing a market-wide move towards greater hybrid engagement.

According to industry sales register VFACTS, private hybrid-car sales are up 25.8 per cent so far this year, and more car-makers are beginning to offer – or at least consider – offering hybrids of their own here.

Last year BMW launched petrol-electric versions of its 3- and 5 Series models, while Lexus’ Japanese luxury rival Infiniti launched its M35h hybrid sedan. Audi has also spoken of possible plans to move into the hybrid market with a petrol-electric version of the A6.

According to Mr Hanley, hybrid was now “a genuine alternative as a high-performance engine and a credible competitor to diesel”.

“These vehicles have vital role to play in our continued product and brand re-invention.”

According to the government-sponsored Green Vehicle Guide, a Lexus GS450h has a better overall rating that either a BMW 520d or 535d – both turbo-diesels, despite using more fuel than both.

This is because the hybird powertrains emit fewer harmful particles (known as NOx emissions) into the air than a diesel.

Each of Lexus’ forthcoming hybrid additions wear the ‘300h’ moniker, but the 2.5-litre petrol engine/electric motor powertrain comes with two different outputs – 151kW for the ES and 164kW for the direct-injected IS and GS, with fuel use as low as 4.9 litres per 100km.

Despite the presence of a battery pack, Lexus claims there is no substantial impact on passenger or cargo space, although this is down to the use of an old-school – Lexus prefers “proven” - nickel-metal hydride unit, as opposed to the more efficient and expensive lithium-ion cells used in most modern hybirds.

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