DETROIT – Calling the strong yen the brand’s No.1 issue, a top Lexus official says the luxury auto maker will combat the surging Japanese currency by building more models in North America.
“I believe that someday you will see a Lexus built in the U.S., but you won’t see it in the short term,” Mark Templin, group vice president for Lexus in the U.S. tells media during the 2012 North American International Auto Show here.
All Lexus models sold in the U.S., except for the Canadian-built RX cross/utility vehicle, are imported from Japan.
However, Templin says building models outside Japan is only one tool’s luxury brand has to combat the exchange rate discrepancy between the yen and the dollar, which slices millions of dollars in profitability when Japanese auto makers’ repatriate their U.S. profits.
“We will cut money out of the supply chain without taking it out of the products and without raising the prices to the customer,” he says. “You have to compete in the market on price. We have to make decisions on a long-term basis and not on a short-term basis.”
Lexus unveiled the concept LF-LC sport coupe at the show Monday, alluding to a future design direction for the brand, which Templin tells the media will be the fastest-growing luxury marque in the U.S. this year, with nine new or updated models due.
Lexus saw sales fell 13.4% to 198,552 units in 2011, allowing German brandsand Mercedes-Benz to overtake its long-held title as the U.S. top-selling luxury brand.
Templin predicts 2012 Lexus sales will hit 240,000 units, with growth largely due to normalized production following last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan and an all-new GS going on sale within weeks.
Sales of the current GS, launched six years ago, fell to below 4,000 units last year, but Lexus says the new model should see at least 20,000 deliveries annually.
The overall theme of the Lexus press conference is one of aggressiveness, with Templin saying the brand’s future vehicles will be “more distinctive and more engaging,” as well as more fuel-efficient.
Templin also says the LF-LC concept sports car unveiled Monday is more than just a grab bag of design cues. Rather, the model is an “aspirational” car for the Lexus lineup. He does not reveal whether the car is a replacement for the discontinued SC.
’s luxury brand will have its first-ever Super Bowl commercial this year, showcasing the new GS. But Templin does not reveal marketing plans beyond that. Doing so, he says, would discloseother new Lexus models due this year.