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Lexus compact SUV D-day nears

Left: The LF-Xh Hybrid Concept from the 2008 Paris motor show may give an idea of what a future Lexus compact SUV could look like.

Small SUV under serious study at Lexus, says product development chief

19 Aug 2011


LEXUS is preparing to make a decision on an all-new model that its Australian arm is itching to get its hands on – a compact SUV to take the fight up to the BMW X1 and Audi Q5.

The prestige Japanese company is also considering whether to add a right-hand-drive version of its next-generation Lexus ES mid-sizer after it goes into production in the next year or so, which might pave the way for the reinstatement of the Camry-based luxury car in the Australian line-up.

These imminent decisions were confirmed today by Lexus global product chief, Australian-born Canadian Karl Schlicht, when speaking with Australian journalists at the global debut of the all-new Lexus GS at Pebble Beach, California.

Mr Schlicht, who is general manager of the Lexus product and marketing planning division, said the compact SUV was “going through serious study right now”, but no decision had been made on production or timing.

He said a small SUV had been proposed multiple times previously, but had been knocked back.

This time, however, the latest iteration would go before the new-look, streamlined Lexus product committee, which might change its fortunes.

31 center imageLeft: Current US-market Lexus ES.

“So, we will see whether it goes through,” he said. “It hasn't been finalised yet or approved, but it is under serious study.”

Lexus Australia chief executive Tony Cramb told GoAuto in March that a compact SUV was one area that he would like to see covered in the local line-up.

“That is definitely an area we are going to have to deal with,” he said. “There is nothing that we have formally announced at this time, but it is clear that we will need to do something in that area.”

Mr Schlicht, who was born in Australia and lived in Melbourne until he was five before his German-born parents moved to Canada, said Lexus was also looking at a seven-seat vehicle, “but that's a little further away”.

He said confirmed that the next-generation mid-sized, front-drive ES had had the tick of approval from the Lexus committee, at least in left-hand-drive form.

But he said it was still to be decided if it would be developed for right-hand-drive markets such as Australia.

“We are close to doing that – that's all I can say,” he said.

That decision is likely to hinge on whether the UK and Australia both want the vehicle, which was discontinued in Australia at the end of 2005.

Viewed as a Camry with a bow tie, the ES has been overshadowed by the rear-drive IS, which itself is due to be replaced with a redesigned model in 2013. However, the ES has continued on sale elsewhere, with greater differentiation from its donor car helping to put it back on track.

Asked if the new ES could be sold in Australia, Mr Schlicht said: “It's possible.”

Asked if Lexus was considering a new sportscar, perhaps to replace the SC, Mr Schlicht said Lexus was first aiming to ramp up its 'F' variants, with F Sport enhancements locked in for GS, LS and RX.

He said Lexus was also considering more hardcore F sports variants to follow up on the success of the IS F, adding that was easier than developing an all-new sportscar.

“IS F is not a one-off,” he said. “The F concept is a stronger pillar of our brand right now.”

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