LOS ANGELES -- To field a strong BMW 3-series competitor, Toyota Motor Corp. is looking at a range of variants, such as a coupe, convertible and hybrid, for the redesigned Lexus IS 250 and IS 350, two sources say.
The company declines to confirm the plans. But Suguya Fukusato, chief engineer for the IS program, says that market demand requires variants in the future.
Fukusato says Lexus is evaluating a ragtop similar to the BMW 3 series, as well as a retractable hardtop. Fukusato says he would prefer a ragtop for the weight and space savings. He spoke at a media event here last week.
Bob Carter, general manager of Lexus Division, says an IS coupe and convertible are on the company's wish list. Carter says those variants are necessary because Lexus wants the IS lineup to compete with the BMW 3 series.
The redesigned 2006 IS sedans go on sale in October.
The IS platform architecture is shared with the GS sedans, making a hybrid variant possible as well.
The GS 450h hybrid sedan will arrive next spring, powered by a V-6 engine and two electric motors.
Fukusato says Toyota's current hybrids are too focused on fuel economy to work with a performance sedan.
"If we could make the hybrid sportier, then we could introduce a hybrid version. Every day we make progress," Fukusato says.
Another high-performance possibility: a rumored IS 460, powered by a V-8. Because the IS engine bay is almost identical to that of the GS, a V-8 could fit in the IS chassis.
But Fukusato noted that such a big engine would upset the front-rear weight bias, which is crucial to the handling of a sport sedan.
With a convertible, coupe, wagon and sedan, the BMW 3 series posted sales of 106,549 in the United States in 2004. The Lexus IS, with sedan and wagon, posted sales of 9,972 last year.
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