U.S. sales of the Lexus HS 250h, the first dedicated hybrid-electric vehicle from Toyota Motor Corp.’s luxury division, are running below target with 1,076 deliveries in April, according to Ward’s data.

Lexus had hoped to sell 20,000-22,000 units annually in the U.S. but is on pace to deliver fewer than 14,000, having sold just 4,529 copies through April.

Since the HS went on sale in August, Lexus has sold 11,228.

Lexus tinkered with the volume target a couple of times before the car’s launch. The brand once called for annual HS 250h sales in the 25,000-30,000 range.

Readjustment was blamed on the car’s popularity in Japan.

“Right now, there’s so much demand for that product in Japan…maybe 20,000-22,000 might be more realistic,” Mark Templin, Lexus Div. group vice president and general manager-Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., told Ward’s in November.

Templin, speaking on today’s Toyota media sales conference call, defends the HS 250h’s low volume.

“I think we underestimated the power of the Prius brand,” he says, referring to the Toyota brand’s purpose-built hybrid. “And we overestimated what the market would look like based on gas prices. But if we can do over 1,000 units a month, 1,000-1,500 units a month, we feel really good about what we’re doing in the marketplace.”

That’s because HS volume is incremental for Lexus, Templin claims.

With lots of “momentum” in the marketplace right now, Templin adds Lexus will have its first May sales event, running now through June 1.

Within Lexus’ hybrid lineup, the HS is the second-best seller, outpacing by a wide margin the brand’s other offerings: the GS and LS sedans.

Through April, Lexus sold 119 of the GS 450h this year and just 40 of the LS 600h, a $100,000-plus vehicle.

However, the HS trails the hybrid RX cross/utility vehicle, which has been Lexus’ best-selling U.S. HEV. Lexus dealers recorded 1,232 RX 450h deliveries in April.

The HS can’t compare with the Prius. Its April sales totaled 12,555, up 49.7% from year-ago.

Still, Lexus had a solid April, with sales up 29.3% vs. like-2009.

The non-hybrid LS saw the biggest gain – up 57.5%.

The GX SUV, subject of a recent recall following a widely publicized Consumer Reports warning about its stability control, had the second-biggest gain at Lexus in April, up 47.7%.

Lexus’ worst performer last month was the aging GS, down 86.5% and selling just five units, 20 fewer than the GS 450h.

Overall, TMSUSA saw April sales rise 24.4% above year-ago on a daily basis. There were 26 days in both April 2010 and April 2009.

Most of the Toyota-brand models seeing the biggest gains in April were models newly redesigned, including the Avalon large car, up 36.1%; the Sienna minivan, up 40.6%; and the 4Runner SUV, up a whopping 204.4%.

The Corolla compact sedan, not among Toyota’s fresher designs, saw its sales soar 61.5%, almost besting the non-hybrid Camry’s volume: 26,170 vs. 26,259.

However, the Corolla’s hatchback cousin, the Matrix, saw sales slide 24.5%, according to Ward’s.

Also aging-but-strong in April was the FJ Cruiser SUV, up 52.3%, and the Tundra fullsize pickup, with sales climbing 45.4%.

The Yaris subcompact continued to struggle, with sales down 52.4% in April.

With months to go until new models debut, Toyota’s 3-model Scion youth brand continues to suffer, with sales off 19.5%.

Bob Carter, Toyota Div. group vice president and general manager, says Toyota’s generous incentives, started in March and which include 0% financing for certain models, will continue in May as part of Toyota’s annual sales event.

Bolstering the May selloff will be additional key models, such as the Camry, and RAV4 and Highlander CUVs. He says production increases of these vehicles should add 400,000 units more to Toyota’s second-quarter wholesale stock vs. year-ago.

“In the short term, we’re going to do what it takes to keep ourselves competitive in a challenged but improving market,” Carter says of continuing incentives.

“But long-term, Toyota has always been about the best product. You will see us continuing to market the product and not the deal,” he says, adding summer advertising will reflect this strategy.

Carter denies Toyota has lost momentum in the marketplace because of its recall/unintended acceleration woes, saying its retail sales leadership in April, and continued conquest rate of 40%, proves his point.

“We’ve built 40 million cars with electronic throttle controls, and we’re still looking for one that demonstrated any symptoms of unintended acceleration.”

Nevertheless, he calls Toyota’s long-term ad message as a way to “rebuild” its brand with those who might be thinking twice about buying a Toyota.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com