SAN DIEGO – While many were taken aback by the $400,000 starting price for Toyota Motor Corp.’s new 522-hp Lexus LFA supercar, compared with the competition, “it really is value pricing,” a high-ranking U.S. executive says.

“If you think of the other carbon-fiber supercars, Enzo Ferraris and Porsche Carrera GTs, you’re talking cars that are at least $450,000 to $1 million,” Mark Templin, Lexus’ U.S. sales chief says, tells Ward’s here. “So we consider (the LFA) to be a pretty good value proposition.”

Lexus had planned to position the LFA a bit lower, with talk initially of a $200,000-$250,000 sticker price.

But, depending on exchange rates, the actual cost will be about double that in the U.S. Toyota has set the price at ¥37.5 million ($432,615 as of Dec. 1).

Lexus kept “coming up with new ideas to make the car even better and better, and when we decided to make it carbon fiber it really took it to a whole new stratosphere,” Templin says in explaining the move up-market.

Output of the LFA, slated for a 2-year, 500-unit run, doesn’t begin until December 2010. But Lexus expects to have every one sold prior to the supercar’s early 2011 sales launch in the U.S.

“We already have something like 150 real-solid prospects who say they want the car” and who have been exposed to it, Templin says. He says many are not Lexus customers, but owners of other exotics, either collectors looking to add to their bounty or people who own just one supercar and want to trade up to a new model.

Next year, Lexus will be picking the “lucky few” who will be able to lease an LFA, and its team of specialists will begin working with the future owners to customize their vehicles. Only 150 of the 500 LFAs will be available in the U.S.

“There’s 30 colors and eight different surfaces inside you can customize,” Templin says of the extreme personalization possible with the vehicle.

Lexus reportedly will lease the car for a 2-year period in the U.S. and Canada, then allow buyers to purchase the vehicle at the end of their lease. The tactic is being implemented to keep speculators from buying an LFA and flipping it quickly at an inflated price.

Lexus also is trying to control demand for the car, hence its limited run.

“We watched some other manufacturers make the mistake of building too many, and it really hurt the value of their cars in the marketplace,” Templin says.

While some of the technology in the LFA will work its way down into other Lexus models, the brand doesn’t have a strategy to introduce ultra pricey, special-edition performance models.

“We don’t want to be something different than we’ve been for the last 20 years,” Templin says. “We still have a huge core group of people who love our products and what they provide. That’s a bigger market than the small niche of people who want the performance cars.”

Rather, he sees the LFA, and other low-volume models such as the IS-F sport sedan and new LS Sport grade, boosting the brand’s performance credentials.

Looking to 2010, Templin believes the luxury segment will regain share to about 12% of the light-vehicle market. Currently, the sector accounts for 11.5% of industry sales, Ward’s data shows.

He expects Lexus to close out 2009 with about 210,000 units sold, down from 260,087 in 2008.

Meanwhile, Templin says Lexus continues to study a small premium car and cross/utility vehicle for the U.S.

The LF-Ch compact hybrid concept, unveiled in September in Frankfurt, will travel the U.S. auto show circuit (beginning this week in Los Angeles) to gauge consumer reaction. In addition, Lexus is featuring the model on its website, where it also is seeking feedback.

A trend toward smaller cars points to a strong possibility the LF-Ch will make it to production.

“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Templin says. “We just want to make sure consumer perception is our reality.”

As for a smaller CUV to compete with BMW’s X3 and Infiniti’s EX, he notes the volume of the entire segment doesn’t equal that of the Lexus RX midsize CUV.

“There is a trend that shows us eventually there will be a market for those smaller (CUVs),” Templin says. “(But) at what point do you enter the market: when it’s early and you can’t sell any volume or do you wait?”

Ward’s data shows Lexus sold 81,564 RXs through November, making it the 12th best-selling light truck of 2009.

The best-selling small luxury CUV, the Mercedes-Benz GLK, racked up sales of 19,572 units through November.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com