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Lexus introduces $100,000 sports coupe to burnish image

Bloomberg, Kyodo

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus is rolling out its highest-performance model since the LFA supercar to burnish its reputation among buyers of prestige luxury autos.

The LC 500 sports coupe, unveiled Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, accelerates from 0-to-60 mph (0-to-96 kph) in under 4.5 seconds, faster than the Mercedes SL550.

The car goes on sale in early 2017. Prices will start at just under $100,000, more for higher trims.

The four-seater adds momentum to President Akio Toyoda’s push to build a more well-rounded reputation for Lexus among premium car buyers. While the brand has come to be known for quality and reliability, the lack of sports cars or otherwise exciting models contributed to Lexus losing the U.S. luxury sales crown in 2011.

“It’s exactly where the brand needs to go,” said Karl Brauer, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “It’s really the only thing left for them — there’s nothing to fault Lexus for, except for passionate, emotional appeal, both performance and style-wise.”

Appearing for his first press conference at the Detroit auto show since 2011, Toyoda recalled a trip he made to the U.S. later that year. Americans shared impressions with him about Lexus vehicles, calling them well-made but boring to drive.

“I was determined to make sure we became a more emotional brand, and that the words boring and Lexus never showed up in the same sentence again,” Toyoda said.

Lexus plans to sell about 550 of the coupes per month worldwide, with the U.S. market accounting for about 400 of those deliveries, said Jeff Bracken, a Lexus group vice president.

The automaker turned to lightweight materials including carbon fiber and aluminum for the doors and trunk floor to boost performance. Buyers also will have their choice between glass and carbon fiber for the roof. The last model in the Lexus lineup to feature prominent use of alternatives to steel was the carbon fiber-intensive, $375,000 LFA supercar.

Under the hood, the LC 500 will feature the luxury car industry’s first 10-speed transmission, with the 5-liter V-8 engine found in the Lexus RC F and GS F performance cars.

“It’s difficult to change images,” Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American chief, said in an interview. “Toyota had an image for a long time of being very stodgy on styling. I still hear that a lot today, it drives me crazy. They were right 10 years ago; they’re not right today. Lexus suffers a little bit from that as well, despite some great-looking cars. This will really set it apart for Lexus.”

Lexus posted bigger U.S. sales gains than BMW or Mercedes-Benz for the second-straight year in 2015, increasing deliveries 11 percent to 344,601 cars and sport utility vehicles. The brand finished fewer than 1,500 units behind BMW and pulled ahead of Mercedes for the first time since 2010.

Other Japanese automakers also unveiled their latest car lineup.

Honda Motor Co. introduced the second generation of its Ridgeline truck Monday to capture a share of the hot midsize pickup segment. The truck, whose first generation was shown in Detroit in 2005, will be manufactured at the company’s plant in Alabama and will go on sale in the first half of the year.

“The all new Ridgeline will propose new ideas from Honda engineers in America for what a pickup truck can do for people,” Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo said as he described the truck’s new features, such as an audio system built into the truck bed.

Honda’s luxury Acura brand was to debut the Precision concept car Tuesday that will give consumers a look into the “strong and sharper focus” of the brand’s future design, especially for its upcoming sedan models.

Nissan Motor Corp.’s Infiniti luxury car division unveiled the 2017 Q60 sports coupe Monday. The Q60 is a “near literal translation” of a concept vehicle Infiniti revealed at the 2015 show, a Nissan official said.

“It reinforces Infiniti’s reputation for performance, elegance and drive-focused design,” Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said at the event, adding the Q60 “sends a clear message that Infiniti is fully committed to be a top-tier premium brand.”