TOKYO (AP) _ Toyota's latest luxury car is powered by the world's
first commercially mass produced hybrid system that's especially
designed for rear-wheel drive vehicles.
The Japanese automaker said Thursday the Lexus GS450h, powered by
an electric motor and gasoline engine, will go on sale in North
America and Japan in April and in Europe in May.
Toyota Motor Corp., which leads the world in the new market for
energy-efficient hybrid cars, is targeting global sales of 5,700
vehicles this year _ 2,000 vehicles in North America, another 2,000
in Europe, 1,500 in Japan and 200 elsewhere.
Toyota initially developed its hybrid system for the front-wheel
drive Prius compact car, and some design changes were needed to
adapt it for the Lexus GS450h.
This latest hybrid debunks the image that ecological vehicles
can't zip around powerfully like sportscars, company officials said.
The new Lexus has a 3.5-litre engine but delivers the driving
sensation of a 4.5 liter engine on a standard vehicle as well as the
mileage of an equivalent model with a two-litre engine, they said.
``The Lexus brand must pursue the essence of luxury, and that
includes cutting-edge technology,'' president Katsuaki Watanabe said
at a Tokyo showroom. ``It's a good opportunity to highlight the
technological strength of the hybrid.''
Adding to the glamour is an advanced safety feature, billed by
Toyota as another world first, that not only uses sensors to detect
cars ahead but also uses a camera on the steering wheel to judge
whether the driver is facing the front or not. If the driver is
looking away, the emergency brakes kick in faster in a potential
The Lexus is a well-known Toyota nameplate around the world, but
Toyota introduced Lexus dealers in Japan only last year. Lexus sales
in Japan have struggled at about 10,100 over four months last year,
falling short of the company target to sell 20,000 vehicles during
Japanese luxury buyers have generally preferred European brands
like BMWs and Mercedes.
Watanabe said the numbers weren't too bad and acknowledged it
takes time to develop a reputation for a brand like the Lexus.
Toyota is targeting sales of 40,000 Lexus vehicles in Japan this
year, but has sold about 3,300 Lexus cars in the first two months.