Lexus wants its RX400h hybrid SUV to win it sales from people who like to be the first to try new technology.
Called first adopters by some, Lexus calls them "informed luxury buyers" and Lexus Europe Vice President Karl Schlicht says the number of such customers is growing.
On sale in Europe since June, the RX400h promises customers V-8 performance from its combination of a V-6 engine and electric motor. The car also offers the best fuel economy and lowest emissions of any model in a premium SUV segment.
Lexus divides potential buyers in the premium segment into three groups:
1. Informed luxury
2. Status luxury
3. Conservative luxury
Lexus' targeted informed luxury buyers are in their early 40s and account for 36 percent of the luxury market, according to the carmaker.
The younger, status-motivated group has an average age of 38 and represents 36 percent of the market. Conservative luxury buyers are 50-plus and account for the remaining 26 percent of the market, according to Lexus.
"There is a shift going on," Schlicht says. "Conservative luxury is declining," he said while the other two groups are growing.
Schlicht likens informed luxury buyers to people who purchase iPods. They want the latest technology and choose products that satisfy their needs. Status buyers are much more concerned about how their car impresses others, he said.
While Lexus targets informed buyers, he said rivals such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi pursue status buyers more aggressively by producing models with ever-greater horsepower.
The RX400h looks just like the 3.0-liter V-6 gasoline-powered RX300, but features a more powerful version of the gasoline-electric hybrid drive system pioneered in the Toyota Prius. A 3.3-liter engine and two electric motors provide all-wheel drive, 272hp, 0-100kph in 7.6 seconds and combined cycle fuel economy of 8.1 liters/100km with CO2 emissions of just 192g/km.
Lexus expects to sell 4,000 units of the RX400h this year and 10,000 RX300s. The RX400h costs E6,200 more than the gasoline-powered RX300.
The two models should account for half of Lexus' goal of 28,000 sales in Europe in 2005, a 12 percent increase from last year.
Schlicht said that RX400h sales are expected to reach 8,000 units next year, with the growth coming at the expense of the RX300, leaving total Lexus SUV sales in Europe at 14,000.
A hybrid version of the new medium-premium Lexus GS, the GS450h, will come next May. The new upper-premium LS sedan will be launched late this year, followed by a hybrid version in March or April of 2007, Schlicht said.
Lexus' lower-premium IS debuted at the Geneva auto show in March and is due to be launched in November, followed by a diesel version in February 2006. Schlicht said no hybrid version of the IS is planned.