TOKYO -- Toyota Group says it aims to boost global sales of its Lexus brand by about a quarter to 500,000-510,000 vehicles this year, from 404,000 last year, bringing them back to levels last seen before the global financial crisis hit.
Lexus has also struggled because of its weak image in Europe and Japan, where German giants BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi dominate.
According to figures from the Brussels-based industry organization ACEA, the brand grew sales 53 percent to 27,016 units in the EU and EFTA countries last year, giving Lexus a 0.2 percent market share.
By comparison, Audi has a 5 percent share of the same market, followed by BMW with 4.7 percent and Mercedes with 4.4.
To boost its image, Lexus has adopted a new look to give all future models a front grille in the shape of a spindle, including the remodeled GS sedan launched in Japan on Thursday.
"Our competitors -- Mercedes, BMW and Audi -- are all instantly recognizable on the road," Kiyotaka Ise, chief officer of the Lexus group, told reporters at the GS's unveiling in Tokyo. "That's what we're going for."
Lexus lost its crown as the top luxury brand in the United States for the first time in 12 years in 2011, ceding the spot to BMW as Toyota suffered lost production after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Domestic sales forecast
The Lexus target comes after Toyota lifted its 2012 overall domestic sales forecast on Wednesday to 1.63 million vehicles, up 6.5 percent from its previous forecast and 36 percent higher than 2011. It now expects global sales to rise 21 percent to 8.58 million vehicles.
In the luxury car market, competition for the Lexus is set to intensify with Nissan's Infiniti and Honda's Acura also the subject of stepping up efforts to become global brands.
Ise's deputy, Kazuo Ohara, said Lexus would increase marketing activities to raise its profile as a technologically advanced nameplate in Japan, where consumers largely equate luxury and status with traditional European brands.
The GS sedan will start at 5.1 million yen (49,588 euros) in Japan for the 2.5-liter, rear-wheel-drive version, while the top-of-the-line GS450h hybrid version will start at 7.0 million yen. Toyota has set a monthly sales target of 600 GS sedans in Japan.
Ohara said he expected overall Lexus sales in Japan to be only slightly higher than last year's 42,365 vehicles.
BMW sold 34,195 vehicles in Japan in 2011, while Mercedes sold 33,207 and Audi 21,166.
Sources: Reuters; David Jolley contributed to this report