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Lexus has more powertrains to come for LS

Coming up: The all-new Lexus LS limousine is likely to gain more electrified powertrains, with hydrogen fuel-cell even on the table at Lexus headquarters in Nagoya.

Hydrogen fuel-cell, EV and PHEV all on the cards for new Lexus LS

Lexus logo11 Apr 2018

LEXUS is considering a wide range of advanced powertrains – including full electric and hydrogen fuel-cell – for its all-new LS limousine that was launched in Australia this week.

LS chief engineer Toshio Asahi told GoAuto that plug-in hybrid, EV and hydrogen fuel-cell were “all on the table” for potential inclusion in the Lexus flagship in the current generation.

He also revealed that Lexus engineers were working on a more powerful version of the conventional petrol-electric hybrid that is one of two powertrains offered in the new, fifth-generation model in Australia (the other is a twin-turbo petrol V6).

The hybrid in the LS500h matches a 3.5-litre normally aspirated petrol V6 with an electric motor and multi-stage continuously variable transmission to send 264kW of power to the rear wheels.

That is sufficient to send the big, 2.2-tonne sedan scurrying from zero to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds – 0.6s faster than the previous LS hybrid that married a 4.6-litre V8 with an electric motor, but Mr Asahi said engineers were already looking at ways to improve that.

“Of course, we are considering how to improve the hybrid system, so in terms of power, we are looking how to improve that,” he said.

Mr Asahi said he could not discuss specifics of future product programs, but indicated that Lexus was well aware of powertrain developments at rival companies.

German manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW, already offer plug-in hybrid electric powertrains in their S-Class and 7 Series flagship sedans.

When the new LS was shown as the LF-LC concept at the 2015 Tokyo motor show, it allegedly had a hydrogen fuel-cell (HFC) powertrain – an indicator of what Lexus was thinking for the car.

While some pundits were sceptical about the chances of such a powertrain making it into production in LS, one Lexus executive at the show told GoAuto that not only was the HFC powertrain expected to go into production but “sooner than you think”.

Lexus parent company Toyota is an HFC pioneer, already offering such propulsion in its Mirai car offered in restricted markets such as California where hydrogen refuelling is available, albeit on a limited basis.

Potentially, Lexus could become the first brand to offer an HFC car in the upper-large luxury market where pure electricity is the favoured route by most manufacturers.

But even if such a variant of LS goes into production, the chances of Australian sales are slim, as hydrogen refuelling stations are almost non-existent.

Plug-in hybrid or full electric powertrains are more likely here, as well as in markets such as Europe and China where EVs are swiftly multiplying as governments intervene more vigorously to cut emissions.

So far, Lexus has launched two models – the LC large sports coupe and LS sedan – on the luxury car version of Toyota’s Global Architecture, but Mr Asahi was coy about the possibility of further models springing forth from the big rear-wheel-drive platform.

Asked if we could expect an SUV from the same source, as has been widely speculated, Mr Asahi smiled and said he could not discuss that.

And asked if the all-new 310kW twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 that debuts in the new LS would make in into other models, Mr Asahi served up the same response – with the same smile.

High-end Lexus models will almost certainly get the engine to replace normally aspirated V6 and older V8 engines, although Lexus insiders cautioned that it would not necessarily replace the current 3.5-litre normally aspirated V6 in all of its applications across the Lexus range.

Currently, that older V6 does duty in the RX SUV, RC coupe, IS sedan, ES sedan and GS sedan.

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