BIRMINGHAM, UK - Lexus wants to sell 50,000 units a year in Europe by 2005 - more than six times this year's expected total. It will need 200 to 300 exclusive dealers to meet its aim, each selling nearly 200 cars a year.
'Right now, our 200 Lexus dealers are just dedicated areas, a sort of Lexus corner within the local Toyota dealer,' said Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, executive vice president for sales and marketing at Toyota Motor Europe.
In Europe, 'Lexus is an underestimated and undervalued Toyota asset. This brand has one of the highest potentials for growth,' said Diaz Ruiz. With the end of quotas on imported Japanese cars next year, Lexus 'is now in a position to fully exploit this potential.'
By the end of the year all Lexus franchises will be terminated. 'From 1999 we will begin to build the new dealer network,' said Diaz Ruiz.
The new IS200 will be key to Lexus' plans. It is 'the first Lexus entirely conceived for Europe. It will be a winner in terms of value and price,' predicted Diaz Ruiz. The IS200 will compete in the lower luxury segment against the Audi A4, BMW 3 series and Mercedes C-class.
Diaz Ruiz believes the best way to lure Audi, BMW and Mercedes drivers is to get them behind the wheel of a Lexus. 'I want the dealers to organize a lot of test drives,' he said. 'I am convinced that at least one client in 10 who drives the IS200 will buy it.'
Lexus does not plan to bring its coupes and sport-utilities to Europe yet. 'First, we have to establish Lexus as a maker of luxury sedans. Only then can we start to add other types of products,' said Diaz Ruiz.
Lexus aims to sell 8,000 units this year, up from 3,500 in 1997. It wants to become less dependent on the UK, which currently accounts for 40 percent of European sales. By 2005, the target is 40 percent in Germany, 30 percent in the UK, and 10 percent each in Italy and France. 'The rest of Europe will account for the remaining 10 percent,' said Diaz Ruiz.