Re-energised Lexus hybrid relights the fire
The new Lexus IS300h is leading the charge back for the Toyota-owned brand
Date Reviewed: September 3, 2013
Spare a thought for the plight of Lexus over the last few years. As the Celtic Tiger roared, the premium car brands reaped the rewards. The German brands may have got the cream of the crop but Lexus and Jaguar were making their mark, particularly among affluent motorists seeking something different from the increasingly everyday badges Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
At European level, Lexus Ireland was a bit of a star. While on continental Europe the Toyota-owned brand struggled to be recognised, though its volumes were low, at least in Ireland the brand was well-regarded.
Then the financial tsunami struck. Sales of all brands plummeted. At the same time the Germans took over the Irish operations of Volkswagen Group and started to aggressively market Audi. BMW, whose Irish operations were already under the control of the parent firm, fought back. Mercedes announced that by 2020 it would be the biggest selling premium brand. Meanwhile, as the battle lines were drawn and tempting discounts offered, at Lexus, its Japanese leaders, focused on the US market, decided to take a fundamentalist approach to petrol-electric hybrid technology. Diesel was no longer de rigueur. That wasn’t exactly the perfect strategy for a European – or Irish – market, in which diesel makes up the vast majority of sales.
In terms of market share Lexus didn’t really have far to fall. Even in 2007 its market share was just 0.85 per cent. However, in volume terms it sold 1,592 cars that year. This year it has sold 159. Compare that to Audi with 3,485; BMW with 3,128 or Mercedes with 1,343 and you see the mammoth task Lexus faces in challenging the German brands.
In the fight back to relevance the new IS300h is tasked with leading the charge. In keeping with the firm’s new hybrid policy, only one version is being offered: the 2.5-litre petrol engine combined with electric motor. Some cynics may snipe that it’s a posh Prius, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The new IS is much more than sum of its hybrid parts.
From its styling to its interior, this is a proper premium offering from a brand that, despite the high publicity recalls of the past, has garnered a well-earned reputation as one of the best-built car brands on the market.
Adding extra punch
Lexus has also taken a different route to Toyota with its hybrids, particularly with its larger cars. At the premium brand the addition of an electric motor is as much about adding extra punch to an already powerful petrol engine as it is about any eco issues. The end result in the IS300h, for example, is a tasty 220bhp; that’s more than on offer from any of its similarly priced German rivals.