rsquo12 Lexus CT 200h

’12 Lexus CT 200h.

Lexus Considers Derivatives as CT Hybrid Sales Accelerate

Japan’s earthquake and tsunami struck during the same month the CT hybrid launched last year. While the calamities hampered output of many locally built vehicles, Toyota prioritized the CT and its Prius assembly-line mate at its Kyushu plant.

NEWBERG, OR – Lexus CT 200h hybrid sales likely will grow 25% in 2012 from year-ago and although that’s a healthy gain, it’s not as much as the Japanese luxury brand would like, a top executive says.

“There’s so much demand globally not only for the CT but (for) other Toyota products that share those components, it’s hard for us to ramp up as fast as we’d like to,” Mark Templin, Lexus U.S. group vice president and general manager, tells WardsAuto here during an interview.

“We’ll probably end up in the 18,000-unit range this year, just based on the supply that we can get,” he says of the hybrid. Lexus sold 14,381 CT 200hs in the U.S. last year.

The CT hatchback shares a powertrain with Toyota’s popular Prius hybrid and is Lexus’ smallest and least-expensive U.S. offering, beginning at $29,120 for the ’12 model. It also is sold in Japan, China and Europe.

Japan’s earthquake and tsunami struck in March 2011, the same month the CT hybrid launched in the U.S. While the calamities hampered production of many Japan-assembled vehicles, Toyota prioritized the CT and its Prius assembly-line mate at its Kyushu, Japan, plant.

The production push for the 5-door Lexus was enough to bring 2011 sales in the U.S. to more than 1,000 units a month, surpassing the target set by the brand.

If dealer stock, units at port and models in transit are included, days’ supply of the CT was a healthy 53 at the end of last month, according to WardsAuto, up from 40 in late April and just 11 in May 2011. Based on dealer inventory alone, days’ supply falls to 19, Lexus spokesman Michael Kroll says.

Lean dealer stock and softening gasoline prices, which historically have meant falling demand for hybrids, will affect the car’s sales performance this year, he adds.

Templin says the CT is having the intended effect of bringing new buyers not only to Lexus, but also to the luxury segment. Most are coming from the mass-market Japanese brands – Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Others are trading in German luxury models.

“It really is a good car for moving people into luxury for the first time,” he says.

The median buyer age for the Lexus CT is 53, below the brand’s median age of 59, the auto maker says. The hatchback’s buyers have a median annual household income of $150,000, more than the $100,000 bracket originally forecast.

Although Lexus did not plan to offer anything smaller than the CT compact 5-door in the U.S., Templin, noting the car’s success, now says there is a “possibility to build other vehicles off that platform” to grow sales to new, younger luxury buyers.

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