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Car confidential: Lexus takes on Germans – seriously

Lexus hasn’t launched a new model in the UK for almost two years; what has it been up to?

Readying a wave of new models, to take on the Germans in their own backyard.

The next GS saloon arrives in UK showrooms this April, followed by the RX400h in June and the all-new IS saloon in November. Karl Schlicht, former Lexus UK boss and now vice-president of Lexus Europe, is bullish that Lexus now has what it takes to succeed over here.

“Until now, our brand and designs have been US-focused. But our new design language, L-Finesse, will provide the more emotional look we’ve been asking for in Europe,” he says.

Aside from more exciting styling (witness the GS and LF-A supercar concept), the brand will also stand for cutting edge electronics and hybrid technology. Schlicht has high expectations for the RX400h hybrid. The system promises the grunt of a 4.0-litre V8, yet the fuel economy of a four-cylinder saloon. If supply were unlimited, the 400h could power up to 50% of UK RXs.

An even more powerful V6 petrol-electric hybrid, the GS450h, is also on the way. And, not before time, the IS will introduce another powertrain option: a diesel with class-leading ouputs of 175bhp and 295lb-ft from the 2.2-litre common-rail four, and a combined fuel consumption figure around 45mpg.

Schlicht predicts that Lexus will sell 65,000 cars in Europe by 2010, up from 25,000 last year. The firm has a big war chest to spend on marketing, advertising and dealer recruitment, boosting European coverage from 250 to around 350 retailers by 2010.

But he rules out growth in UK dealerships, praising the strength of the existing network. “We want Lexus to be a solid business , and our dealer network to be profitable,” Schlicht says.

At last, retailers will get a stream of product. The next LS limousine follows in 2007, along with the 200mph production version of the L-FA. The sky really is the limit.

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