LOS ANGELES - Lexus has told dealers that it will sell a coupe with a retractable hardtop roof in January 2001. The convertible most likely will replace the SC 400 coupe.
It is expected to be a 2+2. Given the growing competition in luxury specialty cars, dealers want the Lexus entry to be marked by high performance.
'Dealers have requested it be a rocket ship,' said A.J. D'Amato, general manager of Tustin (Calif.) Lexus and chairman of the Lexus dealer council.
Dealers also said that Lexus will stretch the wheelbase of its flagship LS 400 and bore out the V-8 engine to 4.3 liters. The car, likely to be renamed the LS 430, will arrive next August or September. Lexus is not planning a V-12 version of the LS 400, dealers said. Such a car has been the focus of much rumor.
The future product that most excites dealers is the IS 300. The car is a direct assault on the BMW 3 series and finally will give Lexus a rear-wheel-drive car in the $30,000 range.
Lexus vehicles have been criticized for lacking soul and character. Dealers hope the IS 300's rwd, youthful styling and interior touches - such as a chronographic instrument panel - will change that thinking.
Since Lexus traditionally has attracted gray buyers (median age is 54), the prospect of the IS 300 luring younger, well-to-do buyers could make the car 'a franchise within a franchise,' one dealer said. The IS 300 arrives in July.
All three products will be shown to dealers at their October meeting in Hawaii. Only the convertible 'concept' will be shown at the Tokyo Motor Show later that month.
The new products will come on the heels of a strong year. Lexus sales rose 24.0 percent through August, to 123,994. A year ago, Lexus trailed Mercedes, Cadillac and Lincoln in sales; now Lexus is ahead of those rivals.