Toyota sees 25,000 U.S. sales of new Lexus hybrid

ROCHESTER, Michigan (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp expects to sell about 25,000 of its all-new dedicated hybrid car for the Lexus premium brand in the United States in the first 12 months of its sale, an executive said on Wednesday.

The Lexus 2010 HS 250h hybrid car is seen after it was introduced during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 11, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

The Lexus HS250 hybrid, which is slated to go on sale in the U.S. later this summer, is the automaker’s first hybrid-only model for the luxury division and adds to its green car lineup led by the market-leading Prius hybrid of the mass-market Toyota brand.

“More than 60 percent of entry luxury sedan buyers said they would consider hybrids, and this is a segment nobody’s in right now,” Mark Templin, group vice president of the Lexus Division for Toyota North America, said at an event north of Detroit.

Toyota, which launched the Prius in the U.S. market in 2000, has sold more than 1 million Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles in the country to date, representing more than half of its global hybrid sales.

The company has commanded nearly 75 percent of all hybrid vehicle sales in the U.S. market over the past decade.

Toyota also launched its third-generation Prius hybrid this spring, targeting U.S. sales of 180,000 units in the first 12 months.

It did not detail pricing on the Lexus HS250 hybrid, which it said was roomier, wider and longer than the Prius hybrid.

Demand for fuel-efficient cars has dwindled in recent months after gasoline prices feel sharply from their peak last July and as a faltering economy curbed consumers’ purchasing power. Hybrids typically command a price premium of about $3,000 to $5,000 over regular gasoline-powered vehicles.

But Templin said there are signs that the economy is improving and the market for fuel-efficient cars is coming back.

U.S. auto sales are down 36.5 percent through the first five months of 2009, but May sales supported by high incentives were the strongest so far in 2009, giving the beleaguered industry some hope that the selling environment is at least not getting worse.

“We feel like we’ve hit the bottom in the last three to four weeks,” Templin said.

He said the U.S. market would start a gradual recovery in the second half and industry-wide sales could top 10 million units this year.

“People are feeling better about the economy, and our dealers are asking for more cars. That’s a good sign,” Templin said.

Editing by Gerald E. McCormick