LONDON -- U.K. sales of Toyota Motor Corp.'s premium Lexus brand are expected to rise to 10,700 this year before hitting 15,000 in 2006 as it launches new models, the company said on Wednesday.
Lexus U.K. Director Steve Settle told Reuters he expected sales to rise from 10,047 last year as the carmaker focuses on new diesel-powered and hybrid models.
Britain makes up more than 40 percent of Lexus' total Europe sales.
"If you look at our future volume for this year we will probably achieve something like 10,700 units and next year somewhere around 15,000 because we will have some new models," Settle said in a telephone interview.
He said Lexus expected overall European sales to reach 28,000 this year. Lexus in April tipped sales at around 30,000 this year in Europe despite a weak first quarter.
Lexus partly blames weak demand on its lack of a diesel option, which makes up about half of Europe's luxury car market. It plans to make up for that with new, more environmentally friendly vehicles.
The carmaker has relaunched its GS executive sedan and rolled out its RX 400h hybrid sport-utility vehicle in Britain this week. It plans to launch the IS mid-sized car later this year.
Lexus faces the challenge of a softening U.K. car market as retail spending declines. Settle said he expected overall U.K. car sales to remain flat at around 2.45 million this year.
"Certainly in the short term I don't think the car market will strengthen. You can see there is some growth in fleet but a fairly significant reduction in retail," he said.
"We see Lexus as having a special place in the U.K. market. We don't want to chase BMW or Audi volumes and we have no intention to do that."
Lexus improved European sales last year but has been unable to attain the same success as in the United States, where the 16 year-old brand quickly assumed the lead in the market despite tough competition from hallowed German luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW.