TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday that it would bring its successful Lexus brand to Japan and overhaul its domestic sales network in a bid to expand its share of the sluggish domestic car market.
The changes will mark the first large-scale overhaul of Toyota's sales network and make it the first Japanese automaker to have domestic outlets specializing in luxury vehicles.
Rivals Nissan Motor Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. have also recently announced plans to reorganize their domestic distribution networks to boost efficiency and profitability.
Toyota will set up 150 showrooms in mid-2005 exclusively to sell the Lexus, which has been a hit since it made its debut in the United States more than a decade ago.
Japan's top carmaker will also merge the Vista sales channel into the Netz line next spring to focus on specific groups, with an emphasis on women and young drivers. That will bring the number of Toyota sales channels to four from five.
"Competition is expected to heat up in Japan," Executive Vice President Kazushi Iwatsuki said in a news conference.
"Against that backdrop, we aim to improve our distribution network and product strategies to secure an even greater market share in the medium- to long-term."
Apart from the Netz channel, the Toyota channel will sell non-Lexus luxury vehicles, Toyopet will concentrate on medium-sized cars, and Corolla will sell mass-volume vehicles centering on compact cars.
"I think this is a good idea," said Steve Usher, analyst at J.P. Morgan.
"(The merger of the Vista and Netz lines) will imply a reduction in costs and a more focused product strategy, and will enhance their competitive position as well as improve the efficiency of the outlets themselves, over time."
He added that any impact on Toyota's share price or profits would begin to appear only after three or four years.
Toyota has about 5,000 showrooms nationwide.
Through the Lexus brand, Toyota also will hope to win back lost share of the domestic luxury car market, dominated by European brands.
Late last year, Lexus topped an industry study for long-term durability for the eighth straight year, followed by Infiniti and Acura, the luxury brands of rival Japanese automakers Nissan and Honda Motor Co.
The success of the Lexus brand in the United States played a big part in Toyota's record profits last business year, but sales of luxury sedans at home continued to fall due to shrinking demand from corporate customers in the face of economic stagnation.