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Lexus revs up – gradually

ES the one: The expected return of the mid-size ES is expected to boost Lexus sales in Australia.

Rejuvenated model line-up tipped to boost Lexus sales, but recovery will take time

9 Apr 2012

LEXUS expects sales to recover significantly in Australia this year as it releases key models like the redesigned GS sedan and facelifted LX, RX and LS.

The next-generation IS, an all-new compact SUV and the return of the ES after almost a decade’s absence will round out a hectic 18-month period for Toyota’s luxury brand.

Aiding the company’s ambitions will be a better supply of vehicles out of Japan after last year’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that severely disrupted production and cost Lexus many sales worldwide.

“Last year we were devastated by what happened in Japan, so I would be looking at a 10 to 15 per cent increase in our volume (for 2012),” Lexus Australia chief executive Tony Cramb told GoAuto.

Lexus sales slipped slightly to 6347 units in 2011, and have been at that level for a few years.

But the real volume boosters will arrive next year, starting with the still-secret sub-RX luxury compact SUV to take on the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60 and BMW X3 in the $60,000 to $90,000 bracket.

Believed to be based on the long-overdue Toyota RAV4replacement, but with competently different bodywork, interior and engine options, the unnamed newcomer will pitch the Japanese luxury brand into fresh sales pastures.

According to Mr Cramb, it cannot come soon enough for Lexus.

“If we are serious – and we are – about competing seriously with the Germans and other brands that are entering this area (then we must),” he said.

“That market is on fire at the moment, and there is no good reason why that growth would stop. In that case, we would be crazy not to at least consider developing a model to slot underneath the RX.”

31 center imageMr Cramb (left) is also hopeful of making hay with the all-new ES sedan, revealed at last week’s New York auto show and just announced for right-hand-drive production after years of being a predominantly US-only model.

He made it clear he would take the mid-size front-wheel-drive Camry-derived ES should it be made available for RHD markets.

“I am already on record as saying that we would accept an ES. It is a terrific vehicle that fills a hole that we have here.”

Mr Cramb does not believe the resolutely comfort-orientated ES between the IS and GS would undermine the brand’s push to be taken more seriously as a maker of drivers’ cars.

“Our thinking from a performance and sports point of view (is that) we’ve got the F Sport range, we’ve got the GS and IS, we’ve got the LFA and ISF, and those kind of vehicles are aimed as sports (models),” he said.

“Then we’ve got another tier that goes to people who aren’t necessarily sports-minded, that don’t necessary need such an engaging drive, but want to treat themselves to a luxury experience.

“Mercedes is all about the status of owning that sort of vehicle – our research shows that it’s all status – and BMW is the driver’s car and clearly they’ve positioned themselves that way.

“We’ve positioned ourselves as progressive luxury, so we don’t need to put people into a particular category. Progressive luxury offers what the customer wants. It is not up to us to decide what the customer wants.

“So we could offer that sports side and a high-performance vehicle range inspired by the LFA, but at the same time offer a luxury car like the ES, which is a beautiful luxurious car, which is where our brand is, so I don’t see an issue with offering both.

“If you go through their model line-up, you’ll see that Mercedes offers both. They just focus on a particular area.”

Also due next year is the long-awaited third-generation IS sedan, which is striving to make sales inroads against the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Audi A4 with bolder design and a greater emphasis on driving enjoyment.

To that end, one company insider revealed that the latest GS will provide much of the underbody and suspension components for the next IS, but in a shorter and lighter rear-wheel-drive package.

“The new IS under development will be an exciting product,” said Lexus Australia marketing and aftersales manager.

“It will be a little more revolutionary than the new BMW 3 Series. I don’t think you can afford not to be. When you are a challenger brand and you are number four, you can’t afford to be evolutionary.”

Mr Evans believes the new GS embodies the change that is coming over Lexus.

“Certainly the GS is the first of the reinvigorated models that shows a focus on the driving experience that we’ve never had before,” he said at the recent GS launch.

“When has Lexus ever run a press launch up a mountain road and finish with an autocross? That’s just symptomatic of the change of mindset inside the corporation.

“So we’re quietly confident that GS will be seen as a true competitor in that segment.

“(The GS) is a great value proposition. Our role as a challenger brand is to keep the ‘3Gs’ (three German brands) honest with their pricing – a bit like the old Australian Democrats.”

Nevertheless, Mr Evans said Lexus is realistic about the timeframe it will take to really lift sales to where the company believes they deserve to be.

“You can’t turn around a brand in six months or 12 months, and you can’t turn it around in one marketing campaign.

“But it is the start on the road (to recovery). We’ve had LX facelift and GS, the RX coming in the middle of year, and there is a major change to LS towards the end of the year.”
What's coming from Lexus
LX facelift Now
GS Mk4 Now
GS450h May 2012
RX facelift July 2012
LS Q4 2012
ES 2013
Sub-RX SUV 2013
IS Mk3 2013

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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