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F and CC versions of facelifted Lexus IS are just for starters

M3 hunter: Lexus Oz chief executive John Roca with the storming new IS F.

IS F, facelifted IS, new RX, IS coupe-cabrio and all-new small-car to boost Lexus

26 Aug 2008

AUSTRALIAN Lexus sales might be four per cent down so far this year, but that hasn’t affected the Japanese luxury giant’s ambitious retail expansion plans here, driven by a flurry of new model facelifts, replacements and additions.

Bringing the number of Lexus Australia dealers to 23 next week will be the former BMW outlet at Wodonga, which opens on September 1. Lexus of Wodonga will be joined eight other new Lexus dealerships in the next two years, many of them rural, with a target of 39 outlets by 2012 - by which time Lexus should have added at least three all-new models. Lexus also continues to target 16,000 sales here by 2015.

“Throughput is now at a level where we need to grow so we can continue to look after our customers,” Lexus Australia chief executive John Roca told GoAuto. “We want to maintain our number one customer satisfaction ranking, and our 76 per cent (sales) retention rate.”

Leading the charge will be a facelifted version of the entry-level IS medium sedan, which has already been at least partially revealed in the shape of the Australian-spec IS F we drove in Japan last week (see separate story).

The 2009 IS250 range will soon enter production at Lexus’ main Tahara plant in Nagoya, before making its local public debut at the Sydney motor show in October, when entry-level Prestige and top-shelf Sports Luxury variants will go on sale – a month before the flagship IS F. The updated IS250 Sports will follow in about three months and should feature standard leather instead of Alcantara trim.

31 center imageLeft: LF-A, LF-Xh, SC430 and Lexus IS F chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi.

The first facelift for the second-generation IS line-up will comprise a new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system to replace the current stability control set-up, plus fresh bumpers, a reshaped GS-style grille, new LED tail-lights, three new wheels and redesigned wing mirrors with integrated repeater lights. A new centre console will complete the primarily cosmetic upgrade and prices are not expected to change.

Facelifted versions of the turbo-diesel IS220d and 223kW V6-powered IS350 remain off the menu for Australia. The now close alignment between European and Australian vehicle homologation standards means what’s available in Europe could be here too, but Lexus of Europe is yet to demand the 223kW IS350 and diesel power has been ruled out by Lexus Australia.

“Hybrid is our future,” said Mr Roca. “But we haven’t given up on the IS350.”

Next cab off the IS rank is a new two-door coupe-convertible with folding hard-top, which enters production for Australia in August next year and should go on sale here, in a single highly-specified IS250 “CC” variant priced close to $100,000, around October 2009.

“The IS coupe-cabrio has been confirmed for Australia, where we think it will be a very strong entrant for us,” said Mr Roca, who added that up to 800 examples could be sold in Australia annually.

Mr Roca said that at this stage there were no plans to introduce an F version of the IS CC to match BMW’s M3 Convertible and dismissed reports of an F-tuned GS large sedan, but confirmed its US-developed F Sport accessories range could soon be available in Australia.

“The IS F is more than a toe in the water. But Lexus is by its nature conservative and we’re not really promising there’s going to be anything else than IS F at this stage – maybe with the exception of LF-A, if we get that car.

“You can’t judge it too early. Every car has a 12-month honeymoon period. Sustainability will be the key to our (F) success,” he said.

The F Sport range comprises cosmetic, braking, engine and suspension upgrades for the IS in the US, where GS components will also soon be added, but Mr Roca cautioned all parts needed to pass internal and regulatory certification before being sold in Australia, apart from the need to establish the IS F as a model here first.

“The F Sport range depends on the success of the IS F. People won’t buy the accessories if there’s no car to put them on. We’ve got to establish the car as a hero first,” he said.

Mr Roca said that a local race program was not on Lexus Australia’s agenda for the IS F, but that his company would soon relaunch its Encore customer satisfaction program and may initiate a driver training program in conjunction with an established provider if demand warrants it.

While speculation suggests the mid-engined, V10-powered LF-A super-coupe could be officially confirmed for production within 12 months, with sales to commence in 2010 or 2011, IS F chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi told GoAuto he was keen to develop a lighter, more track-focussed version of the IS F.

“There are ideas but nothing is confirmed,” he admitted at a preview drive of the IS F for Australian journalists at Fuji Speedway last week. “We want to look at being even lighter, (but) we don’t yet know how much weight we could take out.”

Much closer to home is the next-generation RX luxury SUV, which was previewed at last October’s Tokyo motor show by the LF-Xh show car – a concept that will appear at this October’s Sydney motor show alongside the IS F and facelifted IS – and could emerge in final production guise at the Paris show in October.

Toyota Australia executives sampled the redesigned RX (and the IS coupe-convertible) during a new model “study tour” in Japan last month, including back-to-back testing with the Mercedes-Benz M-class and BMW X5.

Due on sale in Japan this year and expected in Australian Lexus dealerships by mid-2009, the all-new version of Lexus’ second top-selling model (sales of which are almost 15 per cent down in 2008), will continue to comprise a volume-selling RX350 petrol V6 variant, with a new petrol-electric hybrid version to follow about three months later.

The current RX400h will morph into the RX450h thanks to its use of a 3.5-litre V6 instead of the current 3.3-litre six, and first-hand reports claim it will deliver V8-style performance and even better fuel consumption.

“It will be a good match for the likes of an X5 turbo-diesel,” said a company insider.

Further afield, the seven-year-old SC coupe-convertible, year-on-year sales of which are down more than 50 per cent, is expected to continue until at least 2011, when a replacement in the mould of the original Lexus Soarer coupe should emerge.

Lexus is also on target to deliver on its promise to reveal its first dedicated hybrid model, which is expected to be a rebodied “premium” version of Toyota’s next-generation Prius, at the 2009 Detroit motor show in January. At this stage the first hybrid-only Lexus model is earmarked for sale only in the US, as a left-hand drive vehicle.

Finally, there is no news on Lexus plans to produce a sub-IS entry-level model. As we reported exclusively last year, the small-car project internally codenamed “C-Premium” will be either a sedan or hatchback (a sub-RX SUV based on the RAV4 has been ruled out) in the mould of the BMW 1 Series.

“It’s no secret that’s what we want to do,” said Mr Roca.

What’s coming from Lexus:
IS250 facelift October
IS F November
IS250 Sports facelift Jan 2009
RX350/RX450h redesign Mid-2009
IS250 coupe-convertible Oct 2009
Dedicated hybrid (US only) 2010
SC coupe redesign 2011
LF-A supercar 2011
All-new small car 2012

Read more:

First drive: Smokin' IS F is the wildest Lexus ever

Lexus IS-F to match Benz C63 benchmark

Lexus gets set to flex

Lexus commits $230 million to retail upgrade

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