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Will Lexus Regain The Luxury Sales Lead In '15?
"Toyota Moves to Revamp Its Lexus Luxury Line
By BILL VLASIC
Published: September 26, 2012
DETROIT — With a strong comeback under way in mainstream sedans and S.U.V.’s, Toyota Motor is now hoping to rejuvenate its Lexus brand by appealing to younger and more adventurous buyers.
A 2013 Lexus LS 460 F sport model. Toyota Motor is hoping to appeal to younger buyers.
The automaker has recovered most of the United States market share its Toyota brand lost last year from inventory shortages because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Now its Lexus brand is gaining steam with a revamped product lineup, including sporty new variations of cars like its flagship LS sedan.
Industry analysts said the flashier grilles and interiors on the new Lexus models served notice that the brand was no longer aimed at older, more conservative buyers.
'Lexus is bringing passion back to the showroom by being aggressive in styling and performance with their new models in hopes of attracting a younger demographic,' said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with the auto research site TrueCar.com.
Lexus sales rose 24.8 percent in the first eight months of this year. While the brand is unlikely to pass the luxury leaders BMW and Mercedes-Benz anytime soon, it is gaining fast on the German manufacturers. (Toyota brand sales are up 31.1 percent in the United States; the overall market in the United States is up 14.7 percent.)
Lexus was the best-selling luxury brand in the United States for 11 consecutive years until 2011. But product shortages allowed both BMW and Mercedes to overtake it last year. The brand also had lost some of its prestige because of consumer concerns about sudden acceleration linked to faulty floor mats and other equipment problems.
The top Lexus sales executive in the United States said Wednesday at a media event in Detroit that overtaking BMW and Mercedes was not a priority for now.
'We don’t care who is No. 1 at the end of the year,' said Tim Morrison, a vice president. 'Being No. 1 with the customer is what we need to focus on.'
Toyota has moved aggressively to upgrade the Lexus lineup with bolder designs and state-of-the-art safety features like collision avoidance systems.
And because Lexus had a blander image than BMW, Toyota has added high-performance variations called F Sport.
The new F Sport version of the LS full-size sedan comes with all-wheel-drive, an 8-speed transmission and a V-8 engine that generates 386 horsepower.
The new LS sedan goes on sale in November. This year, Lexus introduced redesigned versions of its smaller GS and ES sedans and its top seller, the RX sport utility vehicle.
Mr. Morrison said the addition of the F Sport variations of the RX and LS would not only add incremental sales, but would also add some sizzle to the brand’s image.
'It’s starting to change the image,' he said. 'The typical RX buyer is in their mid-50s, but the F Sport buyer is three to four years younger.'
Lexus has consistently won honors for quality and reliability from consumer research firms like J. D. Power & Associates. It has also led the luxury market in providing fuel-efficient, gas-electric hybrid versions of its models.
But its cachet has faded somewhat in recent years, particularly as rivals like BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi brand have brought out better-performing cars with stylish designs.
'Lexus was traditionally a conservative choice for consumers who wanted a well-built, reliable luxury vehicle,' Mr. Toprak said.
The F Sport variations are meant to lure buyers who considered previous Lexus models too bland.
Mr. Morrison said that Lexus expected to sell about 1,000 of the new LS sedans a month in the United States, with about 10 percent of those being F Sport models.
Lexus sold 150,000 vehicles in the United States in the first eight months of this year. Mercedes, by comparison, sold 168,000 cars and S.U.V.’s, and BMW sold 164,000.
Mr. Morrison said he expected full-year sales for the brand to reach about 240,000 vehicles. That total would put it within striking distance of the German leaders, and in position to possibly regain the luxury sales crown next year when it reaches full production for all its models.
Lexus is not overhauling its refined image entirely, but the addition of the faster F Sport models should broaden its appeal.
'Lexus is going to continue to look like Lexus,' Mr. Morrison said. 'But it will have a little more performance for customers who want it.'
Lexus will likely finish behind BMW and Mercedes in U.S. sales in 2012, but what about 2013? With Audi, Infiniti, Cadillac, Acura, Volvo and Lincoln aggressivviely going after a larger piece of the action, it'll be interesting to see from which of the top four brands they take the most sales away.