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Lexus to expand lineup, with eye on German rivals

Kyodo

As Toyota Motor Corp. prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the Lexus next month, the automaker is aiming to strengthen the luxury brand by keeping production mostly in Japan and expanding its modest lineup.

While the Japanese brand keeps an eye on its German rivals, it’s devising a long-term strategy to solidify its place in the international market.

Lexus held a party in Tokyo on Tuesday to commemorate the launch of the all-new NX sport utility vehicle. About 300 people from the fashion industry and other businesses took part.

It is “important that the ‘Lexus is cool’ image spreads by word of mouth” through these people who are very sensitive about fashion and other things, a person in charge of Lexus operations said.

Lexus set up a test track near the party that looks similar to the one seen in the TV commercial for the new SUV, which is driven through a place covered with foam. Guests rode the NX as professional drivers showed what it could do.

Lexus debuted in September 1989 in the United States with two sedans, the LS and the ES. The quiet engine of the flagship LS took drivers by surprise. The Lexus RX SUV was also a hit upon its 1998 debut.

In Japan, the Lexus debuted in 2005 but faced a string of problems — the Great Recession in 2008, global recalls in 2009 and 2010, and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Global sales totaled 523,000 last year, about one-third of that sold by BMW AG, Audi AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.

Toyota has put the Lexus division under Toyota President Akio Toyoda’s watch to revamp it. Lexus has few popular SUVs or sports cars that can uphold the brand’s image. It plans to roll out the RC and RC F sports coupes this year after the NX.

“It will take time to make Lexus an established brand. We, our generation, probably won’t be able to see results (of our efforts),” a Toyota executive said.

Lexus aims to showcase its quality by sticking mostly to domestic production, even though it has produced some of the RX SUVs in Canada since 2003 and plans to move some production of the ES sedan to the United States in 2015.

“What customers expect from Lexus is quality, service and hospitality,” Tokuo Fukuichi, head of the Lexus division, said in an interview. “We will never chase volume.”