DELRAY BEACH, FL – Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.’s Lexus luxury brand believes it can sell 1,000 all-new CT 200h hybrid-electric compact hatchbacks each month.

That’s a lofty goal considering the competitors: the Volvo C30, Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series, which account for about 1,500-unit sales a month in the U.S.

Ward’s data shows the three models delivered a combined 1,991 units in October, with the 1-Series accounting for 1,139 of the total.

Lexus is confident in the CT 200h’s potential because it is the small-but-burgeoning segment’s only hybrid and offers a sporty driving experience, as well, says Brian Bolain, Lexus national advertising and marketing manager, at a preview of the car here.

“I think we’re covered on both sides of the equation; the hybrid side and the fun-to-drive side,” he says of the CT’s appeal to buyers seeking fuel economy as well as driving pleasure.

Bolain claims the CT’s 5-door design will stand out in a way the styling of Lexus’ other compact hybrid-electric vehicle, the HS 250h sedan, does not. He acknowledges the auto maker has stumbled with the HS. Sales of the HEV have languished since it launched last year.

Lexus targeted at least 20,000 units annually, but Ward’s data shows HS 250h sales through October stood at only 8,754.

“Whether you love or hate the way the HS looks, it’s just another 3-box sedan,” Bolain says. “It has not differentiated itself visually for people. For someone who wants to make a statement, (the) HS doesn’t quite get them where they need to be.”

Much to Lexus’ chagrin, the HS also is drawing an older demographic than expected. Bolain puts the HS buyer’s age on par with that of the ES 350 sedan, which is popular with Baby Boomers.

Lexus expects younger, 30- or 40-something buyers with an annual household income of about $100,000 to opt for the CT 200h. Some 50%-60% are expected to be men, with three-quarters of those new to the brand, he says.

Research shows these Generation X and Y buyers already are the driving force behind the purchase of non-automotive luxury goods. They also express more confidence in the economy and many are planning to buy a new car within the next 12-24 months.

Their confidence is due to their growing income, Bolain says, noting the number of Gen X and Y Americans with household income of $100,000-plus is on the rise, unlike other generations.

When the ’12 CT 200h goes on sale March 1, it will become the fifth Lexus hybrid offered in the U.S., following the RX 400h/450h cross/utility vehicles, the GS 460h and LS 600h upper-middle and large sedans and the HS 250h.

The CT 200h boasts Lexus’ smallest gas engine yet in a hybrid, a 1.8L 4-cyl. Atkinson-cycle mill, mated to a 2026V nickel-metal-hydride battery. It is the same hybrid system as is in the Toyota Prius.

As with the Prius and Lexus RX 450h, the CT 200h employs a cooled exhaust gas-recirculation system, as well as an exhaust heat-recovery system to improve efficiency.

The CT 200h is estimated to achieve 43/40 mpg (5.5-5.9 L/100 km) city/highway in Normal driving mode. Lexus claims a segment-best combined fuel economy of 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km), besting diesel-equipped competitors, Bolain says.

All four CT 200h driving modes, including Eco, EV and Sport, boast their own steering and throttle calibrations, among other differences.

In Eco mode, for instance, compressor settings are changed to lower the air-conditioning’s fan speed, says Charles Hubbard, senior product education administrator for Lexus College.

Additionally, in all modes other than Sport, the inverter increases the battery’s maximum voltage to 500V. In Sport, or at wide-open throttle in the other modes, the voltage is 650V “all the time,” he says.

The driving mode is indicated on the display behind the CT’s steering wheel. To differentiate Sport, for example, the background lighting changes to red from Normal’s blue and a graphic showing a hybrid gauge becomes a tachometer.

To offset what Hubbard calls the CT 200h’s highly rigid body, the car boasts performance dampers, a Lexus first, located between the strut towers and back-frame horns to absorb body motions and vibrations.

The CT 200h has standard light-emitting-diode daytime running lights. LED headlamps are available and when added to the daytime running lights give the CT a total 89 LEDs, the most of any Lexus, Hubbard says.

Other eco-friendly attributes of the CT 200h include floor-mat, deck-side and deck-board trim containing 40% plant-based materials. A faux leather, made of polyethylene and called NuLuxe, is used in the car’s interior. It is made using no metal dyes and is 50% lighter than leather, Hubbard says, noting it also emits no volatile organic compounds.

Real leather also is available, but Bolain says 83% of buyers who have configured a CT 200h on Lexus’ website have opted for NuLuxe.

The hybrid overall is 80% recyclable, with the lowest curb weight of any Lexus at 3,130 lbs. (1,420 kg) and a 0.29 drag coefficient.

Pricing for the Kyushu, Japan-built car should be announced in early December. Bolain says Lexus is trying to “push as low as we possibly can,” potentially starting the CT 200h in the low $30,000s. However, the unfavorable yen-dollar exchange rate is “making it difficult.”

At that price, the CT 200h still would be more expensive than the competition. For the ’11 model year, the A3 begins at $27,270, BMW 128i coupe at $29,450 and Volvo C30 at $24,600. The starting price of the current least-expensive Lexus, the ’11 IS 250 sedan, is $32,145.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com