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Lexus, Toyota Look (Happily) to the Future

Posted by Dale Buss on December 5, 2011 06:06 PM

Lexus and Toyota brand executives have new spring in their steps these days after each brand reported a 7-percent rise in November U.S. sales over a year earlier. Both brands also are reaching normal levels of inventories at their American dealers again, have some important new products recently introduced or in the pipeline for imminent launch, and are taking some interesting new marketing steps.

"I've been waiting for over seven months to say this," Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager, commented to auto reporters. "For the first time since [the March natural disaster], sales were up for the month versus a year ago."

The iconic Camry is leading the way. Americans have embraced the new 2012 Camry enthusiastically enough that Carter was certain Camry still will be America's best-selling car for 2011, for the tenth consecutive year. Consumer interest also is being heightened by the launch just last week of a new hybrid version of Camry.

What's more, buyers of the new Camry are making the most highly contented version, the SE, the most popular choice by far, a flip from earlier versions. These buyers tend to be much younger than Toyota's reliable baby boomer cohort. Toyota's planned Super Bowl commercial in February for the new car will only help things along.

Toyota will be trying to add more momentum to its comeback with a new technology agreement with BMW that, among other things, reverses Toyota's previous stance against harnessing diesel-engine technology. Under the pact signed last week at the Tokyo auto show, Toyota will work with BMW on developing hybrid-car battery systems while BMW will supply Toyota with diesel engines for Toyota's European product line-up. As recently as two years ago, Toyota was disdaining diesel in favor of hybrids, but no doubt the rising global favorability of diesel — a BMW specialty — and the questionable appeal of hybrids, at least in Europe, has changed executives' minds.

Meanwhile, besides the higher sales and greater availability of nearly all of its models once again, Lexus also is looking forward to the launch of a new version of its GS sedan early in 2012. Besides, Lexus will be purchasing its first Super Bowl commercial ever, and it plans to be a sponsor of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition that comes out in the dead of North American winter.

"We're going to use the Super Bowl as the launch pad for the new GS," said Mark Templin, Lexus general manager. "We're also going to tease some other new things we have coming. We've never advertised in the Super Bowl before in 22 years of existence."

Given how things are beginning to trend up again for America's best-selling luxury brand over the last decade, this February mijght prove to be the perfect time to start.

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