KONA, Hawaii -- Lexus will replace every sedan in its US lineup by the autumn of 2006 as it battles to close the gap in car sales with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. BMW is the main target.
Although Lexus sales were just 18,841 in western Europe last year, Lexus is the best-selling luxury brand in America when SUVs are included. Through August, Lexus had a lead of 19,212 units over BMW.
Denny Clements, general manager of Lexus in the US, says the time is right for Toyota's premium brand to win over BMW loyalists who don't like that brand's move toward polarizing design and complicated electronic controls.
The Lexus sedans are aging. Meanwhile, the competition has pounced with new cars, including the BMW 5 and 6 series, Mercedes E class and Jaguar XJ.
Lexus will counter with all-new GS and IS sedans next year. The new GS made its European debut at the Paris auto show. The sculptured look of the LF-C sport coupe concept shown at Paris foreshadows Lexus' ideas for the next IS sedan.
Clements says the new Lexuses will offer a sportier driving experience and have bolder styling.
"Sales of the GS and IS are way off, but when the new ones arrive, that will be a big incremental gain," says Clements.
The ES 330, which is not sold in Europe, will be re-engineered in the spring of 2006. There will be an all-new LS 430, which will be sold in Europe, in autumn 2006.
Clements spoke at a press launch of the RX400h gasoline-electric hybrid SUV here.
Lexus car sales in the US were up 10.6 percent to 91,417 through August compared with the first eight months of 2003. All of the gain comes from the LS 430, which is up 51.9 percent to 21,030, and the ES 330, which is up 19.5 percent to 50,578.
BMW car sales were down 7.5 percent to 126,885, and Mercedes car sales were up just under 1 percent to 122,379.
Even if overall Lexus sales, including SUVs, are flat for the rest of this year, Lexus would sell 280,000 units in 2004, up from 259,755 last year.