TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. said on Thursday it aims to boost worldwide sales of its Lexus luxury brand by about a quarter to 500,000 to 510,000 vehicles this year, bringing them back to levels before the global financial crisis hammered demand.
Lexus sold 404,000 vehicles worldwide last year, down from a peak of 518,000 in 2007.
Lexus lost its crown as the top luxury brand in the United States for the first time in 12 years in 2011, ceding the spot to BMW as Toyota suffered lost production after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
But Toyota's 23-year-old premium marque has also struggled because of its weak image in Europe and Japan, where German giants BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi dominate.
To change that, Lexus has adopted a new look. Future models will feature a front grille in the shape of a spindle, including the remodeled GS sedan which was launched in Japan on Thursday.
"Our competitors -- Mercedes, BMW and Audi -- are all instantly recognizable on the road," Kiyotaka Ise, chief officer of the Lexus group, told reporters at the GS's unveiling in Tokyo. "That's what we're going for."
The Lexus sales target comes after Toyota lifted its 2012 overall domestic sales forecast on Wednesday to 1.63 million vehicles, up 6.5 percent from its previous forecast and 36 percent higher than 2011. It now expects global sales to rise 21 percent to 8.58 million vehicles.
In the luxury car market, competition is set to intensify with Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti and Honda Motor Co's Acura brands also undertaking new product initiatives to become more established global brands.
Ise's deputy, Kazuo Ohara, said Lexus would step up marketing activities to raise its profile as a technologically advanced nameplate in Japan, where consumers largely equate luxury and status with traditional European brands.
The GS sedan will start at 5.1 million yen ($65,200) in Japan for the 2.5-liter, rear-wheel-drive version, while the top-of-the-line GS450h hybrid version will start at 7.0 million yen. Toyota has set a monthly sales target of 600 GS sedans in Japan.
Ohara said he expected overall Lexus sales in Japan to be only slightly higher than last year's 42,365 vehicles.
BMW sold 34,195 vehicles in Japan in 2011, while Mercedes sold 33,207 and Audi 21,166.