Launched as Toyota’s premium division back in 1989, the brand has so far concentrated purely on luxury saloons and 4x4s, seeing annual sales across Europe leap from 3,000 a decade ago to 51,000 last year.
Not satisfied with such growth, the Japanese premium brand is now entering an exciting new phase of expansion. At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Lexus whisked the covers off its answer to the BMW M3, the production-ready V8-powered IS-F saloon, and the LF-A supercar concept.
Together, they represent a subtle shift in strategy. Lexus already sets the standard for build quality, innovation and flawless customer service in the executive class. Now it wants to add sporty to its repertoire.
Don’t think for a moment that Lexus is launching the IS-F super-saloon to boost registrations; sales here will be counted in hundreds, not thousands. Rather, performance cars like these punch above their weight in promotional value and Lexus hopes to nab some of the attention lavished on rivals from Audi (RS), BMW (M) and Mercedes (AMG).
“We are launching faster Lexus models for the image, not for sales volumes,” confirms Tadashi Arashima, president of Lexus in Europe. “We want to show that Lexus can do exciting.”
AMG models make up just 1% of Mercedes’ UK sales, but the performance brand is used to promote the bread-and-butter cars. This is the much-vaunted ‘halo effect’ at work: buyers order their C180 with upgraded AMG wheels and accessories as they aspire to own the F1 safety car.
Will Lexus’s strategy pay off? It predicts European sales will rise by nearly a third by 2010 and it’s already ahead of schedule. Who’d bet against Toyota succeeding? Not me.