BANGKOK, Thailand - Mounting a push to become a major player in the Asian luxury segment beyond Japan, Toyota Motor Corp. will launch the Lexus brand in China in October by opening six dealerships in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
The move into China follows steps into several smaller regional markets in which Lexus is making steady inroads against segment dominators Mercedes-Benz and BMW. But Toyota knows it has a long way to go.
To spearhead the push, Toyota has turned to veteran Richard Chitty, who played a key role in launching Lexus in the United States in 1989. Chitty still is remembered there for listing his home number on his business card and telling dealers and customers, "It's there to be used if you have a problem."
In 2001, Chitty established Lexus Asia Pacific in Singapore, with responsibility for developing marketing strategies for the region, excluding Japan and India. He's convinced Lexus can repeat its U.S. success in Asia.
Unlike in Europe, where Lexus' image at launch was hurt by sharing showrooms with Toyota, the two brands are sold separately in Asia.
"In Asia, Lexus has a clean image," Chitty said in a recent interview. "That's an advantage because we can build up our reputation. In the beginning Lexus will appeal to Asians who studied or worked in the United States. Logically they are wealthy and know about Lexus."