Lexus Division unveiled its first convertible, a 2+2 coupe with a retractable hardtop, aimed at the Jaguar XK8.
The 2002 SC 430, priced at $59,000 including destination charges, replaces the SC 400 and SC 300. Those cars had combined U.S. sales of only 631 units in 2000, compared with 2,557 for 1999.
Lexus plans to sell 12,000 convertibles this year, then 10,000 in each of the following years. They go on sale March 15, and will be available first in warm-weather states.
'The SC 430 has a little bit of an Audi TT feel in the back and a little retro look,' said Denny Clements, general manager of Lexus, on a press trip in November in San Diego. 'What the TT did for Audi is elevate the brand, and we want to do the same thing with this car.'
The convertible, which is built in Japan, is the third vehicle Lexus has introduced in the past year. It was preceded by the LS 430 and the IS 300 sedans.
Lexus also introduced two versions of the IS 300 last week. The division plans to sell 4,800 units of a five-speed manual and 5,000 units of the IS 300 SportCross wagon. Both arrive in August.
For the SC 430, Lexus is targeting buyers in their late 40s, with college educations and annual incomes of about $170,000.
'Picture a person who shoots a round of golf in the 70s then heads to a gourmet grocery store to pick up a little brie and champagne for a late afternoon snack,' Clements said.
The division already has 7,000 orders for the convertibles, 'so we don't need to do much advertising,' he said. The advertising Lexus will do will appeal to people's romantic side.
Under the theme 'Parlez-vous Desire?' created by Lexus advertising agency Team One Advertising in El Segundo, Calif., all SC 430 TV commercials will appear in French, filmed in French settings. 'The French comes across almost as soundtrack because the words are so recognizable,' Clements said.
The marketing is an extension of the vehicle's design.
'We asked our European designers to do some pretty tough research,' said Yasushi Nakagawa, the SC 430's chief engineer. 'Their job was to spend several weeks in the French Riviera observing the architecture, design of clothes and accessories, home interiors and upscale lifestyle hobbies, such as yachting. Some of the character lines of the region's yachts are reflected in this car, replacing traditional wavy lines.'
The only factory options on the convertible are:
Run-flat tires, for $400.
A spoiler, for $440.
The DVD-based Lexus navigation system, for $2,000.
The SC 430 has a 300-hp aluminum double-overhead-camshaft 4.3-liter V-8 with an automatic transmission.
Not enough to go around
The convertible is a double-edged sword for dealers.
David Mullen, general manager of JM Lexus in Margate, Fla., said he already has more than 300 orders - which is a problem, considering he'll get only 30 units a month.
'We'll try to take care of loyal Lexus owners and those waiting the longest first,' he said. 'But I'm fearful I'll have some upset customers.'
Lexus' U.S. sales increased 10.8 percent in 2000 to 206,037 units.