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Lexus banks on CT200h

Hatch only: Lexus is not looking at introducing a sedan version of its CT200h in the near future.

Sales boost expected for updated CT200h, Lexus reaffirms commitment to hybrids

9 Apr 2014

LEXUS Australia is expecting growth from its facelifted CT200h hatch range in the booming small-premium segment, and hopes its role as an ‘acquisition’ or conquest car continues.

But don’t expect to see any non-hybrid or sedan versions of the niche hatch— a la the Audi A3 sedan or Mercedes-Benz CLA — in this current generation.

The Japanese luxury brand launched the mid-life update for the CT in Australia this week offering a rationalised line-up, a boost in standard gear and some tweaks under the skin including improvements to suspension, steering and cabin comfort.

Speaking with GoAuto at the CT launch this week, Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley said he expected some sales growth following the release of the CT facelift, but added that service quality remained more important than buyer quantity.

“Currently, we have a bit of growth happening at the moment. I am not going to go into sales numbers except to say that I expect that this car will grow again from that number,” he said.

“Putting sales numbers on cars kind of sets benchmarks and that is not what we are about. If volume was our number one aspiration I would give you a volume number but it’s not.

“What I want to do is grow on that current number, but more importantly, I am hoping this car will serve as an acquisition car for Lexus.

“That is the vast majority of people that are attracted to this car will be new to our brand. So they will get an introduction to Lexus and will give them the best experience they have ever had and hopefully they will stay with our brand.”

Sales of the CT slipped last year, with a haul of 847 units marking a significant 43.5 per cent drop over the 2012 result of 1500 cars sold.

The result was in stark contrast to the overall sales in the premium small car segment which was up a whopping 61.6 per cent last year, thanks to the launch of three well-received new models – the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Audi’s third-generation A3 and Volvo’s V40 hatch.

Despite the rash of new models, the overall winner in the segment was Mercedes’ tall-boy B-Class hatch range on 3248 sales for the year.

Things have improved for the CT in the first three months of this year, with 264 sales year to date marking a 23 per cent boost over the same period last year. It is still trailing Mercedes, but it is the A-Class that is leading the segment now with 1301 sales closely followed by the resurgent Audi A3 on 1022 sales. BMW’s 1 Series settles for third spot with 613 units sold.

Meantime, Mr Hanley said the company would consider non-hybrid powertrains should they be on offer in the future, but it was not something they were currently looking at.

“There are no plans at this stage to go outside of hybrid,” he said. “But certainly we would explore any product offering that potentially came up in the future, but at this stage we have no plans to go beyond hybrid drivetrain for CT. And for us it’s a really strong entry point car to that technology.”

The current CT is strictly a petrol-electric hybrid only proposition, with the company not offering a petrol-powered drivetrain in any market. Whether Lexus will expand the engine choices beyond hybrid for the second-generation CT due in 2016 or 2017 remains to be seen, but this information is unlikely to be known for some time.

While a petrol-powered variant could lower the entry price to the range, Mr Hanley said it was more important to have a hybrid model as the entry point for the Lexus brand as a part of a wider hybrid strategy.

“For us it’s about a hybrid journey. We have been establishing this technology now for just over eight years on the Lexus side of the business. It’s about bringing consumers and awareness at an acquisition level to the brand and that’s why CT200h is critically important.

“Hybrid and the journey of alternate drivetrain technology is about ongoing education and we believe we are the best at hybrid. Therefore, for us strategically, and to further establish and solidify our hybrid technology credentials, we believe that an acquisition car like the CT is an important part of our overall hybrid strategy,” he said.

A number of the CT’s key rivals in the premium small car segment now offer sedan versions of their popular hatch models, including the Audi A3 sedan and Mercedes-Benz’s A-Class-based CLA four-door coupe.

Lexus offers the Toyota Avensis-based HS small sedan in Japan and the United States, but despite the growing popularity of luxury compact sedans, Mr Hanley ruled out a booted version of the CT for the Australian market.

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