Lexus U.S. sales off target amid BMW challenge

Bloomberg

Toyota Motor Corp. said its Lexus model, dethroned in 2011 as the best-selling luxury auto brand in the United States, may miss its U.S. sales target this year amid fierce competition from BMW AG.

Sales in the U.S. are “slightly behind” target, although the introduction of the ES model in August may provide a boost in the rest of the year, according to Kazuo Ohara, executive vice president for Lexus.

In the first nine months of the year, the target for Lexus sales in the U.S. was 46 percent higher than the 170,990 vehicles sold, according to estimates by research firm Autodata Corp.

“Toward the beginning of the year, we’d targeted sales of 250,000 units, but to be honest, that’s looking to be tough,” Ohara said in an interview Thursday following a press briefing in Tokyo. “We only recently introduced the ES, so we may be able to catch up toward the end of the year.”

The increased competition the Lexus is facing in the United States, the luxury brand’s largest market, adds to the challenges faced by Toyota. Japan’s largest automaker this week reported its steeped drop in China sales since at least 2008, and announced a recall of about 7.43 million vehicles due to faulty power-window switches.

Toyota, which also lost its crown as the world’s biggest carmaker to General Motors Co. last year, is targeting a rebound in 2012 and projects sales will rise 23 percent to a record 9.76 million units, including those of subsidiaries Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co.

Regaining market share for the Lexus, which had led U.S. luxury sales for 11 years, is considered a priority because it fetches far higher prices than other Toyota-brand cars.

BMW topped the U.S. luxury auto market last year with sales of 247,907 units, followed by Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz with 245,192 vehicles. The number of Lexus units sold came to 198,552.