GENEVA -- After long insisting that a compact car was not in Lexus' U.S. product plans, Toyota officials last week confirmed that the CT 200h hybrid hatchback, unveiled here, will be sold in the United States by early next year.
A concept version was unveiled at the Tokyo auto show in October, but Toyota Motor Corp. executives said then that such a vehicle would not come to America any time soon. At the time, Lexus executives in the United States said they were pleading with Japan to bring the vehicle to the United States.
Production of the CT 200h will begin by the end of 2010 for all markets, the company said.
The hybrid will team a 1.8-liter gasoline engine with the Toyota hybrid system to deliver "2.0-liter performance with class-leading CO2 emissions," the company said.
But while some automakers are equipping alternative-fueled vehicles with lithium ion batteries, the Lexus will stick with a nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
The hatchback will feature "relaxed" and "dynamic" driving modes, as well as an "EV mode" that allows about one mile of zero-emission travel at up to 28 mph. Lexus did not provide performance or fuel economy figures.
Lexus said the CT 200h will ride on a new front-wheel-drive platform with a MacPherson strut front suspension and double wishbones at the rear.
For years, Lexus executives had said the brand would not offer a vehicle in segments below the IS 250 and ES 350. But in a release, Mark Templin, Lexus Division general manager, said he hopes the CT 200h will bring "a whole new buyer to the Lexus brand."
The average age of Lexus customers has increased, while competitors have found youthful buyers with vehicles such as the Audi A3, BMW 1 series and Volvo C30.
In 2005, the average Lexus owner was 51 years old, according to Power Information Network. By 2009, the average age had crept up to 53 despite the addition of the more youth-oriented IS sedan.