DETROIT -- Lexus unveiled its LF-LC sports coupe concept at the Detroit auto show, a 2+2 performance hybrid that may fill the gap left by the retired Lexus SC.
The design takes heavy styling cues from the LFA high-performance car, including its long hood, rear air vents, angular front fascia and short rear deck. But a production version of the LF-LC presumably wouldn't share the LFA's lofty $375,000 sticker price.
Lexus says it has no plans to make the car, but Lexus global product planning chief Karl Schlicht says a production version is envisioned in the $100,000 to $130,000 range.
The car features a next-generation hybrid system that would be dedicated to Lexus. It gets small, lighter components and a tuning towards performance as well as fuel efficiency. In the LF-LC, the hybrid system is envisioned as generating 500 hp, said Mark Templin, head of U.S. Lexus sales.
"Here in the United States, they want a certain level of performance first," he said.
The LF-LC was designed by Toyota Motor Corp.'s Calty studio in Newport Beach, Calif. It features Lexus' new spindle grille design language -- a bolder hourglass-shaped grille that first appeared in the redesigned GS and takes a step further in the LF-LC.
The LF-LC concept also gets futuristic three-bulb headlights and curvy fenders.
Other key features:
- A glass-to-glass rear roof pillar that offers wrap-around visibility.
- Receding cocentric taillights inspired by a jet-fighter's afterburners.
- I-pad-like window controls that roll windows at the speed of your finger swipe.
- Two 12.3-inch information screens.
- Tilt-up keyboard on center console.
Templin said the car ushers a new phase in Lexus history, one that is aimed at generating excitement and high emotion.
"This is more than a new car," he said. "It signals the start of something big."
The LF-LC is another salvo in Lexus' bid to boost its excitement level and draw U.S. buyers from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Lexus' 11-year reign as the top-selling luxury brand in the United States ended in 2011, when BMW took the title and Mercedes edged it for second place.
Lexus U.S. sales slid 13 percent to 198,552 units in 2011, partly because Japan's March 11 earthquake disrupted production.
But Lexus is poised for a comeback this year.
Templin said Lexus is targeting a 21 percent sales increase in 2012, giving it what he predicted would be the fastest growth among any luxury brand. The surge would push Lexus sales to around 240,000 units, from 198,552 in 2011.
"But we can probably exceed that," Templin said.
New product lines
Lexus will launch nine new or updated models this year, plus three F Sports variations, Templin said. The rollout includes four of Lexus' core sedan lines to be redesigned, starting with the GS 350 and GS 450h sport sedans arriving in February, followed by reworked versions of the ES 350, IS 250 and 350 and LS 460 and 600h.
And in early 2014, the redesigned volume-leading RX 350 crossover is expected.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said new or redesigned products would account for about 40 percent of the lineup this year. That compares with just 7 percent in 2011, he said.
Bringing the LF-LC to market could fill a gap in the Lexus lineup for a more affordable high-end performance car below the LFA, following the phaseout of the SC convertible in 2010.
Schlicht said the LF-LC signals a clean break from the SC lineage but would fulfill a similar roll in the Lexus lineup. One big difference: Its pricing level would sit above the flagship LS sedan, not below it as the SC had.