Quick, name the Toyota product least affected by Asian floods and tsunamis? How about the Lexus HS250h? While its junior “dedicated hybrid” brand-mate, the CT200h took a nasty lick straight from its launch, which occurred just as the tsunami hit, the HS has been Mr Reliable. Mr Reliably Unpopular that is: the instantly-stodgy, $37k base price sedan has found between 150 and 300 buyers every single month this year. You can’t pin that on any tsunami, the car is simply a sales stinker. And when high-profit luxury vehicles flop this badly, you have to wonder how it will affect the brand’s the reputation. In any case, I don’t have a [sub] to Wards, so I don’t know why they’re reporting that the HS will be dropped… but I’m not in the least surprised. The market has spoken, it’s time to kill it with fire.
Imagine you’re an automaker which enjoys an unprecedented drivetrain technology advantage over all other manufacturers. Imagine you build a brand around that drivetrain that becomes a cultural touchstone, a symbol of your firm’s technical prowess and commitment to the environment. What do you do next? The obvious answer is to build a luxury version to help make the extra profits needed to pay for the drivetrain’s development, right? Well, Toyota did just that, piggybacking the Lexus HS250h on its strong Lexus brand and Prius technology. The only problem? It’s not working.
Toyota has long insisted that the Lexus HS250h would be America’s luxury “dedicated hybrid” model, while the smaller CT200h would be a Europe-only model. That decision was an presumably based Lexus’s desire to match its US sales success in Europe by offering a unique model that was more attuned to European tastes, hence the CT’s trim, five-door-hatch packaging. But with Toyota and Lexus sales suddenly in trouble in the US, attracting “a whole new buyer to the Lexus brand,” as Lexus flacks put it to Automotive News [sub] suddenly took on a much higher priority. And so, the 1.8-liter Euro-hybrid will bring its “2.0-liter performance with class-leading CO2 emissions” to the US market beginning early next year. As a Euro-market model brought stateside to add youth-upscale appeal that its similarly-positioned US-market brand-mate is struggling to establish, the CT200h’s parallels with the forthcoming Buick Regal are intriguing. That Toyota is taking a page from GM’s product plan-thrashing playbook is just plain troubling.