Toyota Launches New Luxury Hybrid

The new Lexus models will go on sale next month and cost between $80,500 and $125,400.

Toyota Motor Corp. on May 17 launched what it called its most advanced hybrid vehicle yet as part of a drive to roll out more eco-friendly cars, which have helped it become the world's top-selling automaker. Toyota said its new Lexus LS600h and LS600hL are the world's most advanced hybrid cars by bringing together a 5.0-liter V8 engine with full-time all-wheel drive. Existing Lexus hybrids have 3.3 to 3.5-liter V6 engines. Toyota said it has designed the four-wheel braking system to recover energy and lead to a more substantial reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions. Toyota put the new on sale initially only in Japan, an unusual approach for the automaker, which first launched the Lexus brand in the U.S., 16 years before its debut here.

"Without protecting the environment, there is no future," Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe said as he showed off the new sedan in Tokyo. "Our top priority is sustainable mobility," he added. "We are aiming to make the system smaller and lighter so that hybrid systems can go into smaller cars."

The new Lexus will go on sale in 37 countries or territories in Europe, North America and Asia starting next month. In Japan, it costs between 9.7 million and 15.1 million yen (US$80,500-$125,400) before tax. Toyota has set an initial sales target of 7,000 of the new Lexus hybrid models globally in the six months after their launch, 4,000 of them in Japan.

Watanabe reiterated the company's ambitions for higher sales both of hybrids and the Lexus brand. "We aim to double the number of hybrid models by the early 2010s and want to sell one million vehicles annually," he said, adding that the global sales target for the Lexus was 500,000 this year, up from 475,000 in 2006.

But the hybrid boom has shown signs of saturation in the U.S. with sales of Toyota's pioneering hybrid Prius, which for years sold out of stock without any advertising, falling 0.5% last year. Saled did bounced back in January.

The Toyota president said that the company was looking for other ways of improving fuel efficiency, saying that engines were not the only way. "The hybrid technology is the core of vehicle production as it can be adaptable for any type of car," Watanabe said. "We have a principle of production of the fittest. For example, in Brazil, where a lot of sugarcane production enables a lot of ethanol, we'd like to provide cars powered by ethanol fuel," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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