New Lexus halo car will curl your toes

2011_Lexus_LFA_293624artw

Jeremy Cato

Yes, I’ve driven it – the 2011 Lexus LFA super car. All 552 horsepower of it. It’s fast, it’s serious and it’s sexy.

But I can say now that Lexus finally will have a halo car that casts a high-performance shadow across the whole brand.

In the meantime, the Lexus story in Canada is very different than in the United States. In Canada, Lexus sales are up 1.6 per cent on the year and in September sales were up an impressive 11.3 per cent.

In the U.S., Lexus is suffering. After outselling BMW and Mercedes for nine straight years, Lexus has fallen back in the luxury-import pack. Lexus people in the U.S. say they will still be the No. 1 premium brand in the U.S., but not by much.

Through the first six months of the year in the U.S., Lexus sales were down 34.1 per cent. Sales have picked up lately, but the Lexus people expect 2009 sales to be in the 210,000-220,000 range. That’s a big drop from the 300,000-plus cars Lexus sold in 2008.

Lexus depends heavily on sales of the RX crossover in both markets, and while the RX is strong and nearly ideal for Canada, the U.S. types say they depend too much on the RX. In the U.S., rich buyers want smaller cars, including entry-level coupes and convertibles.

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2011 Lexus LFA

Coupes and convertibles last year accounted for more than one-third of volume for the BMW 3-series. Ah, the 3-series. Wouldn’t Lexus like its rival IS range to be as successful as the 3? But it’s not.

The answer to any problem in the car business is to come up with better products. So this year Toyota’s luxury brand has launched the IS convertible (IS 250C and 350C) and a dedicated hybrid, the HS 250h. These two models should pull in some extra buyers, younger ones in particular.

The problem for Lexus in the U.S., and to a lesser extent in Canada — is age, or to be exact, the age of its buyers. Through April of this year, the median age of Lexus buyers was 53, according to the Power Information Network. For BMW it’s 46 and it’s 50 for Mercedes-Benz.

Lexus would like the IS to be as successful at pulling in younger, enthusiastic buyers as the 3-series, but that has not happened and will not for the foreseeable future. But the HS hybrid may be a different story.

At around $40,000 to start, the HS is a premium hybrid and a dedicated one, not unlike the Prius in the Toyota line. So it’s something of a high-tech flagship for Lexus and it might hint at where the products will go in the future – to more hybrids or perhaps even dedicated electrics or plug-in hybrids.

I can say this: I’m willing to bet that future Lexus models will have far more in common with the HS than the LFA super car. But nothing Lexus will build in the next decade will curl your toes quite like the LFA.

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One Response to “New Lexus halo car will curl your toes”

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