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Aussies push for hotter Lexus models

Just the start: The L-Tuned GS300 is an indicator of things that could be coming for Lexus.

Look out BMW and Benz, Lexus wants to muscle in on your performance car territory

28 Apr 2003

LEXUS has confirmed it will develop a range of performance vehicles that aims, within about two years, to muscle in on the successful go-fast businesses established by the Mercedes-Benz AMG and BMW M divisions.

Lexus Australia has been a driving force behind plans to create a range of more performance- oriented cars to be sold globally following the launch of Lexus as a brand in Japan in 2005.

"Our vision is we need performance-based vehicles to be competitive in the luxury market," Lexus Australia senior manager John Roca told GoAuto at the recent RX330 media launch.

"If anybody has an abundance of (powertrain) products that we could throw into virtually anything they've got, Toyota is it." Mr Roca said the pre-sale success of the limited run of L-tuned GS300s - 20 examples are due to be delivered from April - would lead to further limited edition Lexus models.

"Due to the success of this one - we launched it this month and we've got 15 of them sold before they hit the showroom floor - we thought we'd go again," he said.

"We haven't decided yet when the next (L-tuned GS300) batch will arrive but it will be within the next four to five months." Available in black or silver and badged L-tuned (as sold in the US by Lexus and standing for Lexus-tuned), the second batch of exclusively performance enhanced GS300s will also feature 18-inch wheels, a lower ride height, quicker steering geometry, free-flowing exhaust and a sportier mesh grille.

Announced at last year's Sydney motor show and said to add $10,000 of extra value, the L-tuned GS300 is priced at $114,990.

The success of the limited edition IS200 Caliente late last year also means further Caliente-badged versions of the IS200, IS300 and even SC430 will be sold this year, but the ultimate goal is to produce a range of performance cars aimed directly at the hottest models from BMW and Mercedes.

"Cosmetics-only will work for our products at this stage but it's not the thing where you would put a bodykit and a spoiler on an IS300 and put it up against a C32 or an M3 or anything like that - that's a different ball game altogether," Mr Roca said.

"Basically, we're now trying to get support and encouragement from Lexus Japan. Once they see that people are prepared to pay that little bit extra to have something that is a little bit different, then obviously support will gain as we sell the vehicles.

"It would be worldwide - not specific for Australia - but we'd also look at perhaps opening up the situation where you could get a performance designed vehicle specifically for the Lexus range in addition to what we have." Asked specifically what type of vehicle he envisaged would headline such a range, Mr Roca said: "I'd like to see a supercharged V8. Technically, at the moment our V8 is the sweetest thing you'll ever drive, so if we could do that in the future it could lead to a 5.0-litre or even the 5.5-litre that's been discussed for use in the LS previously." Mr Roca said cars such as the US-market GS430, for example, would be a shoe-in for sale in Australia, but that the range would eventually go much further.

"You could even get a high performance IS430 at some stage - things like that you would never rule out. Really, the sky is the limit," he said.

Mr Roca said the sportier, new generation version of the GS mid-sized sedan, due on sale next year, was expected to attract a different, younger audience and could be a springboard for a Lexus performance division.

"We'd probably start looking at it seriously from 2005 and beyond, by which time the new GS will be here," he said.

"What will happen is that in 2005 Lexus will become a marque in Japan.

At the moment it is not and we've always been criticised that Lexus doesn't have a home as such.

"But from 2005 all that will change and once the focus becomes home-based I think you'll find new things will be developed - in fact I'm sure of it." Mr Roca said that while a name for the new performance brand had yet to be decided, cars would be sold through Lexus' 19-dealer national retail network, which is expected to grow to 21 this year with the addition of two yet-to-be-announced rural outlets.

"I know that L-tuned is what America is calling it and obviously with the dominance they have in terms of market share I would say they'll have a huge say. So I suppose if you had to call it anything today it would be L-tuned, which is already an American brand," Mr Roca said.

"Having said that, nobody has the awareness of the L-tuned brand in Australia until we do the GS. So it's early days and we could still easily change it." Australia is the fifth largest market for AMG products globally and Mr Roca said his 18 years of experience in automotive retailing, including more than six years as general manager of a Mercedes-Benz dealership, had taught him "a few things about what the customer wants - but Lexus has taught me how to treat them.

"I've experienced the phenomena myself and I know how popular AMG can be. We're not anywhere near that stage yet, but there's no doubt that mid to long term we wouldn't rule that out for Lexus," he said.

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