FRANCE: Lexus Europe eyes five-fold flagship boost
Toyota Motor Europe's Lexus division is aiming on close to quintupling sales of the fully redesigned LS flagship sedan line.
With the rider "if we can get supply", it is hoping to sell 5,000 annually across the continent compared with 1,155 in 2005.
The car is completely restyled inside and out with a larger engine and numerous technology and equipment upgrades.
A wider range should help the sales aspirations as there are now three trim levels for the petrol-powered LS460 (and a GBP14,000 price spread across the range in the UK) while short and long-wheelbase LS600h petrol-electric hybrid models will follow.
Toyota (GB), the most successful Lexus marketer in Europe, reckons on selling 525 in the first full year, including 250 hybrids launched in the third quarter of 2007.
Although Lexus Europe officials would not be drawn on detailed hybrid version sales predictions, they did note pleasant surprise at the uptake for existing models so far: 60% of RX SUVs sold now have petrol-electric power and the ratio is 40% for the GS sedan, one model range notch below the LS.
The interesting point here is that the Lexus hybrids are priced and specified at the top end of their ranges and this customer preference for the juicy models is reflected in an unspecified number of advance UK orders for the petrol LS460 - 77% of customers want the top GBP71,000 SE-L (for 'luxury'; not to be confused with the upcoming 600h L for 'long wheelbase'), 16% want the mid-range GBP65,000 SE and only 7% hanker for the 'base' model at GBP57,000.
Lexus' UK managing director Steve Settle expects the ratios to change over time but is still a very happy man that uptake for the top version is so high initially.
As to the type of buyer for the new sedans dripping with technology and luxury appointments: 98% male, 55% 55+ in age, 45% 40-55, 65% company owners, 24% retired, 10% self-employed. Much as you'd expect.
As with the three previous generations, the LS proposition is simple: loads of luxury, technology and equipment for the price and relatively few options though, as mentioned earlier, there are now three trim levels and three option packs to mix 'n' match.
Pitching the mid-range SE against appropriate Audi, BMW and Mercedes rivals, Lexus calculates a UK 'specification-adjusted' price advantage of between GBP6,140 and GBP19,200.
All models include DVD navigation, park assist monitor, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, electric seats, voice command, power front seats with memory and Bluetooth so the 'base' model is hardly a poverty specification.
The SE adds a 19-speaker Mark Levinson sound system and DVD changer, power boot closer, rear audio controls, and power rear sunshades plus the rear seat upgrade pack (a GBP3,500 option for the base car) that adds four-zone climate control with rear roof vents, cool box, and electrically-adjustable air-conditioned seats.
The top SE-L adds numerous items of safety technology, a self-parking ability, larger wheels, card key entry and start and upgraded upholstery. The upholstery upgrade (GBP1,500) and safety upgrade (GBP3,750) packs can be added to lesser models with the upgraded rear seat pack and sunroof.
Fully loaded, the Lexus LS460 is a beautifully-built V8, 16-injector, eight-speed automatic luxurymobile that cossets its occupants, can park itself, avoid or minimise the effect of most accidents (including rear-enders), warn the driver if he moves out of lane or looks away as disaster looms and is quiet as a cathedral crypt inside yet the engineers have not got the ride and handling compromise quite right.
On two of the three suspension settings available, the ride is either slightly or quiet 'wallowy' and the handling insufficiently crisp. Dial up 'Sport' and the handling sharpens but the ride becomes too firm with every minor road imperfection felt. That might be fine in the US and Japan, but not in Europe where roads can be rubbish and BMW et al reign supreme.
And what is the point of a transmission selector switch that needs to be in 'sport' mode for adequate response both on twisty, climbing southern France roads and motorways? Optimise the settings please, and eliminate two unnecessary switches.
Lexus LS460 redesign highlights
- Eight claimed world-firsts in safety, driver assistance and powertrain technology.
- New 4.6-litre 375bhp V8 engine with variable valve timing and two injectors per cylinder.
- World's first eight-speed automatic transmission.
- Advanced safety pack (only on SE-L or option) with advanced obstacle detection system (world first); driver monitoring system (world first); emergency steering assist (world first); rear pre-crash safety system (world first); lane-keep assist system (segment first); adaptive cruise control and pre-crash safety system.
- Automated manufacturing processes combined with 'master craftsman' human skills (primarily hand wet undercoat sanding).