Originally published Jan. 11.
Toyota Motor's (TM) - Get Report Lexus division is getting a new flagship coupe, the LC500, an expressively designed, $100,000 vehicle that raises the ante in the tight race for supremacy among global luxury players.
The new vehicle is meant to compete against such prestigious models as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe and the BMW (BAMXY) 6-Series coupe.
Underscoring the urgency of Toyota's initiative, Akio Toyoda, president of the Japanese automaker and grandson of its founder, presented the new model Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Its design is based on a concept vehicle shown in 2012.
Toyoda, speaking before a crowd of about a thousand journalists, insisted that despite the natural tension between engineers and designers, the two auto making disciplines had cooperated to create a vehicle that was structurally sound without compromising its eye-catching, modernistic, low-slung look.
"The LC 500 has been an important product for Lexus and me personally," Toyoda said in a statement ahead of the car's Detroit debut on Monday. "A few years ago, we decided to guide the future of the brand with products that had more passion and distinction in the luxury market."
In the U.S., BMW finished 2015 with 346,023 sales, slightly edging Lexus, which grew 10.7% and posted sales of 344,601 units for the year. Mercedes-Benz was third, with 343,088 units. Volkswagen (VLKAY) -owned Audi grew 11.1%, despite the diesel emissions cheating scandal, with sales of more than 202,000. The industry finished the year just short of 17.5 million sales in the U.S., with luxury brands growing faster than the rest of the industry.
Worldwide, Lexus lags far behind the top German brands, with the bulk of its sales confined to the U.S.
With 467 horsepower generated from a 5.0-liter V8 engine, the LC500 should be exceptionally fast, with a 0 to 60 speed claimed in the neighborhood of 4.5 seconds. The car is built on a new rear-wheel-drive architecture that could form the basis of a future large sedan, such as a successor to the LS460, said executives.
Toyota also took the wraps off a Lexus fuel-cell hybrid vehicle that runs on hydrogen. It should enter commercial production in 2020, the company said.
The Toyota Mirai has entered limited production. Fuel cells convert hydrogen to electric current and steam. Toyota has said it doesn't believe in the practicality of using batteries for electric cars.
The automaker's president has polished his presentation skills, apologizing humorously for his accented English, which he likened to that of Colombian-born actress Sophie Vergara.
"The language I do speak is cars," he said.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.