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Lexus not chasing sales crown

Hot stuff: The RC coupe is expected to get a local launch early next year and should give the brand a further boost in Australia.

Exciting product and customer experience the key to growth for Lexus in Australia

9 Apr 2014

LEXUS Australia’s local chief says the Japanese car-maker it will not aim for any sort of rapid sales growth, and will instead focus on introducing exciting product and building brand desirability.

Following a number of years in the early 2000s with reliable yet conservative product, the company says it is now focussed on adding excitement to the brand through more interesting design, performance-honed models and hybrid drivetrains.

While the big three Germans – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – fight it out for luxury sales dominance and enjoy double-digit sales spikes, Lexus sales have remained a little more steady in recent years, with the brand experiencing a slight boost this year.

Overall Lexus sales are up to the end of March this year, with an 8.4 per cent increase for sales of 1722 cars, up from 1589 in the same period last year.

The growth is largely due to the new-generation IS sedan that launched in July last year that is up by 8.4 per cent year to date, while the CT200h has grown by 22.8 per cent and the RX SUV has risen by 3.6 per cent.

The return of the mid-size ES has no doubt had an impact with 153 examples of the US-spec Toyota Avalon-based luxury contender finding homes in 2014.

Last year Lexus sold 6920 vehicles in Australia, just 81 more than 2012. It was also the luxury brand’s biggest haul since 2007 when it shifted 8199 units for the year.

Speaking with GoAuto at the media launch of the CT facelift, Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley said that while he did not want to make wild predictions about sales targets, he was certain the brand could top the 7000 mark in 2014.

“I don’t want to put a number but let’s just say I am completely confident that Lexus is in a growth phase again,” he said.

“We are not going to be silly and say we are going to do 10,000 or anything because that’s not what we are about. But with sustainable, steady growth, we will build our brand credentials, bring exciting product, give a great customer experience. If you do that you are unbeatable in this market. “ One of the exciting products is likely to be the long-awaited NX compact-SUV that will debut in production form at the Beijing motor show later this month. Based on the edgy LF-NX concept from last year’s Frankfurt motor show, the new model will slot in below the RX in the line-up and be powered by the company’s first turbo-powered petrol engine.

“It is a car that we would richly love to get into this market. Should it become a reality, then it would be our absolute desire in this market to get every variant we possibly could,” said Mr Hanley.

Another model that will boost the appeal of Lexus in Australia is the sexy RC coupe that debuted at last year’s Tokyo motor show that is likely to get a local birth early next year following a wider global roll-out late this year.

Mr Hanley said the RC coupe would be a welcome addition to the local Lexus line-up, adding that it would be a very “exciting” car for the brand.

“It is more about brand recognition with that type of performance car. And it gives us the brand credentials that just adds to the armor of what Lexus is offering now.” Mr Hanley said he is particularly pleased with the popularity of the new IS in the local market, adding that its sales performance has not come as a result of discounting or retail offers, rather on the strength of the product itself.

“There are no clever sales programs happening around it. This is a car that is selling for what that car represents. It’s got amazing value, hybrid technology and I will point out that the IS is not being led by the entry model car. It is being led by the IS300h which is a new hybrid for that car and it is being led by the IS350 F Sport. That car is doing what it is doing based on its credentials,” he said.

Mr Hanley said IS had boosted the brand’s desirability after a period in the last decade when the company perhaps lacked the sex appeal of European competitors such as Audi and BMW. “That is starting to tell us that our brand desirability and awareness is on the increase again and that’s important,” he said.

“If volume and being number one in that segment was all that our brand was about, we are the best credentialed car company in the country to go down that route if we wanted to, but it’s not what Lexus is about. And we have demonstrated that with IS and its performance is strong.” While desirability for the brand is growing, Mr Hanley highlighted design and performance as key areas of focus in the coming years, while emphasising the company’s strong focus on customer service and loyalty.

“We have got to continue the customer experience, that’s a given. The car company that delivers the best customer experience, ultimately long-term will win the hearts of the market. The market determines everything.

Mr Hanley said the company’s current L Finesse design language that includes the polarizing spindle grille has also impacted brand recognition in Australia.

“When people see a Lexus behind them now they are going to say ‘oh that is a Lexus’. That spindle grille. When we first brought that out people were a bit apprehensive. Here it is a couple of years later and now people are loving that big Lexus face. And we have never had that sort of distinction before in the market and that’s what we have got to focus on doing.”

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