BEIJING -- Toyota Motor Corp. will launch its Lexus brand in China, the company announced on Tuesday, saying the country had the potential to be the largest luxury car market in the world. Toyota, the world's third-biggest car maker, would start a Chinese Lexus distribution network by setting up six dealerships in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities by the end of 2004, the company said.
The number of dealerships would rise to 14 by the middle of next year, it said.
"We believe China has the potential to be the top luxury car market in the world," Toyota senior managing director Akio Toyoda said in a statement.
Toyota gave no sales projections, but Lexus will line up against an array of established rival luxury players in China, including Volkswagen AG's Audi arm, BMW AG, and General Motor's Buick division. Lexus is the best-selling luxury car in the United States, with 2003 sales rising 11 percent to 260,000 vehicles.
The announced move into China comes less than a month after Toyota said it would start selling the high-end cars in Japan next year, with an annual sales target of 50,000 to 60,000 cars.
In 2003, Toyota had about a five percent slice of China's car market, which saw total sales double to two million units.
Toyota plans to turn out more than 150,000 cars this year, and between 300,000 and 400,000 vehicles, including compacts, luxury sedans and sports utility vehicles, by 2010.