A personal favourite - the RX450h. We put Lexus future product plans under scrutiny this week

A personal favourite - the RX450h. We put Lexus future product plans under scrutiny this week

Our second feature in a series looking at future models of brands under the Toyota Motor Corporation umbrella was all about Lexus and went down a treat with readers. I have to admit it's my favourite premium brand (although we cover their German parent's activity, Daimler's UK PRs ignore us) and, as we noted: "Many are surprised to learn that Lexus' global sales spread is as wide as it is. The brand has steadily become ever more popular in Japan, its sales over the nine months to the end of September being 30,957 units. Compared to the 51,083 registrations for the number one premium make, Mercedes, this is obviously not a great result, but there again Lexus doesn't have the model range and powertrain choices to compete equally with the German big three. BMW (38,832) is also ahead of the Japanese brand, but Lexus now easily outsells Audi (20,916) due in part to the brand's role in the Volkswagen Group's emissions cheating scandal.

"Lexus has had many ups and downs in Europe and this pattern continues. Where once the main issue was a lack of diesel engines, now it's really just brand awareness and many people simply not understanding what a hybrid is, the presumption often being that you have to plug the vehicle in. Sales for the year to the end of September are flat, with Lexus' market share being just 0.3%. In pure numbers that's 34,460 vehicles compared to 34,606 for the same period of 2016."

I've always liked the way TMC piles new tech and manufacturing processes into Lexus and then some filter down. Like the extraordinary tight panel fit in mundane Toyotas launched after the first Lexus back around 1989. Will new interior trims like this also filter down?

Mitsubishi Motors, which has been a bit under the weather due to, most recently, fuel economy 'misstatement' has now been rescued by Nissan (for which it contract manufactures minicars) and this week announced a bullish three year plan which, it said, it said would deliver sustained and profitable growth, targeting an increase of more than 30% in both annual unit sales to 1.3m vehicles and in revenues to JPY2.5 trillion. Under the plan, the automaker aims to achieve an operating profit margin of 6% or more by the end of fiscal 2019, up from 0.3% in fiscal 2016. The plan combines a product renewal programme with targeted market expansion and operating efficiency improvements. It's not yet clear how much of that we'll see in Europe, where MMC is known mainly for fine pickups and SUVs, and the odd PHEV, because the product renewal programme will coincide with a market expansion drive in the ASEAN region, Oceania, US, China and Japan.

Nissan itself has been somewhat in the merde this week as that little matter of final inspection of Japanese market cars (there is a specific procedure) spiralled out of control with news that somehow the memo did not reach all factories leading to last night's suspension of production for Japan. On top of a recall of 1.2m affected units, that will not have gone down well. Still, the automaker managed to announce a couple of commercial vehicle variants for Japan as 'concepts' for the Tokyo show. The old joke about mundane Japanese machinery being 'appliances on wheels' isn't helped much by an electric van, in white, dubbed the e-NV200 Fridge though the idea makes a lot of sense.

Daimler also announced a bit of a shake up this week - described as some '[EUR100m] first steps to strengthen its divisional structure'. This includes the creation of separate entities for its Mercedes-Benz Cars and Daimler Trucks divisions. The move is being interpreted as facilitating the eventual break-up of the company (to raise capital for more R&D), but Daimler stressed the strengthening of the corporate structure will serve future success and help to 'better focus on changing requirements of markets and customers'. It also said there is no plan to divest divisions of the company.

We've been to a couple of model launches this week - Citroen's new C3 Aircross (made in what was until recently GM's Spanish plant) for t'gaffer and me trying out Kia's nice little new B-SUV called the Stonic. Was intrigued to learn it's not a direct equivalent of anything Hyundai.

Mention of Citroen reminds me of the first PSA announcement about a British former GM plant since takeover and it were not good - Ellesmere Port ('home of the Astra' manufacturing plant is to cut some 400 jobs as it looks to improve its competitive position amid changes to demand in the European car market. A Vauxhall spokesman told us the Ellesmere Port plant needs to 'rightsize' and adjust production volumes to reflect changes in demand in the European market, particularly the rise in demand for SUVs and decline of the more conventional passenger car segment represented by the Astra. The plan is to take a shift out at Ellesmere Port (so that it moves from two-shift production to one) during 2018 to improve its competitive position and boost its financial performance. It is hoped that the employment reduction will be achieved through voluntary redundancies.

Before you could shout 'Brexit', editor Dave Leggett put his analyst hat on for a detailed look under the hood of the announcement noting it was prompted by falling sales of the plant's single model across Europe and not driven by Brexit trade uncertainties. He asks: what is the best use for a Vauxhall vehicle manufacturing plant in northwest England? If it didn't make the Astra, what could it make (or assemble)? Post-Brexit trade arrangements between the UK and the EU are a vital factor for a plant that exports much of its output to the EU. As PSA boss Carlos Tavares has pointed out, it is difficult to plan future investments while Brexit uncertainties loom large. But we do know that the Vauxhall brand is a major source of sales for Opel andVauxhall. And we also know that the UK will be keeping its own currency. A plant in Britain therefore acts as a natural hedge on sterling euro exchange rate movements. But the plant could get a rethink. Recalling PSA's axing of its Ryton assembly plant about a decade ago (now a huge distribution site with a little specialist auto work), I'm not too optimistic.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com

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