Even though trucks represent half of the new-vehicle market and 34 percent of Lexus Division sales, Lexus' next entry will be a sports sedan aimed squarely at the BMW 3 series and the Audi A4.
The Lexus IS - already on sale in Japan as the Toyota Altezza and going on sale in Europe as a Lexus model later this year - will reach the U.S. market in mid-2000, said Bryan Bergsteinsson, Lexus Division general manager.
Holding back a quicker U.S. introduction is the need to determine how to cram a larger-displacement engine under the hood while still meeting safety and emissions requirements. It will be a six-cylinder only for the United States, unlike the overseas models that come in four- and six-cylinder variants.
The leading candidate is the 3.0-liter inline-six with variable valve timing from the Lexus GS 300, said James Press, Toyota Motor Sales senior vice president of automotive operations.
Pricing and volume estimates were not announced. However, Bergsteinsson said the car is dynamically different enough from the ES 300 sedan to have a similar pricing ballpark without cannibalizing sales.
Although Lexus demographics have tended toward the gray side, Bergsteinsson hopes the new model will attract 40-something professionals who 'normally would not have considered buying a Lexus.'
Touches that would attract performance-minded younger buyers include rear-wheel drive, double wishbone suspension, a stylish interior with chronograph-style instrument cluster, and an engine mounted behind the front axle for better weight distribution.