July 27, 2005 in Business

Toyota introduces Lexus to Japan

Yuri Kageyama Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Toyota Motor Corp. President Katsuaki Watanabe unveils the automaker’s remodeled Lexus cars.
(Full-size photo)

TOKYO – Bow-tied waiters held trays of mineral water and chic ambient music filled the air as Toyota unveiled the three models Tuesday that will mark the introduction of the Lexus luxury brand in Japan, 16 years after it was rolled out in the United States.

For a combination of cultural and business reasons, Japan’s No. 1 carmaker has until now avoided using the Lexus brand in its homeland, choosing instead to sell many of the same models under its trusted Toyota name.

For years, conformist Japan has lived under the ideal that everyone is middle class, and most people tended to shun flashy or luxury cars that stand out.

But Toyota officials say Japan is changing, and a growing upper class is willing to spend – though how the new brand will fare in this notoriously finicky consumer market is uncertain.

Toyota Motor Corp. says it’s trying to sell more than a car. It wants to give customers “an experience,” and set up luxurious-looking dealerships, complete with leather furniture and hotel-quality service, especially for the Lexus. The showrooms open Aug. 30.

“This is the realization of our dream to create a global luxury brand,” Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters at a giant tent pitched in a Tokyo park, similar to tents for fashion shows and other gala events here. “This is something we have wanted for many years.”

The Lexus models sold in Japan, which were known here as the Toyota Aristo, Soarer and Altezza, are slightly different from – and cheaper than – the sedan models shown Tuesday, the GS430/GS350, SC430 and IS350/250, priced at as much as $61,000.

Toyota is counting on the success Lexus scored since its debut in 1989 in the United States, including excellent J.D. Power and Associates rankings, to woo rich Japanese, who now buy imports such as BMW and Mercedes Benz.

Toyota, based in Toyota city, in central Japan, has set up a special training center to groom classy, courteous dealers to sell the Lexus brand in Japan. That’s proved a challenge because Japanese dealers are different than what people are used to in the United States and other nations.

Watanabe said Toyota is targeting 3,000 vehicles a month in sales for the three models combined.

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