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Lexus looks to woo younger buyers with performance cars

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

As it grows another year older, Lexus hopes to reach an increasingly younger customer.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s luxury brand launched its first vehicle — the LS 400 — 25 years ago with a focus on Baby Boomers. Now that those buyers are reaching retirement age, the brand is seeking a younger Gen X and Gen Y audience through edgier commercials and performance-focused vehicles.

Lexus recently started airing commercials for its 306-horsepower IS 350 sports car featuring shirtless men and seductive women, and tabbed “Hunger Games” actor Wes Bentley to hawk its new RC Coupe. And next month, the brand will start selling a $35,000 NX — its first offering in the hip, hot compact utility segment — to appeal to singles and young couples in their 30s and 40s.

“It’s definitely a risk that we’re taking as a brand, but if we don’t take risks like that, we won’t be able to bring Gen X, Gen Y, young customers into our brand,” said Jeff Bracken, group vice president and general manager, Lexus division. “We may lose a few of our traditional owners ... but if we don’t, we’ll never be able to grow.”

Since its inception in 1989, Lexus has grown from two models to 10, including six hybrids and 10 performance vehicles. It’s on track to sell more than 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. this year, and expects to top 300,000 U.S. sales, a 10 percent increase over last year.

Bracken said the brand will never offer vehicles under $30,000, and still sees BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi as its main competition. But it’s now targeting Gen X and Gen Y, since they account for one-third of all luxury vehicle sales, and will become the largest group of luxury vehicle buyers by 2020.

To reach that demographic, its vehicles are changing. Its new NX will offer the brand’s first turbocharged engine, and its signature spindle grille — first introduced in 2011 — is becoming more prominent on every new model, even though Bracken said it could be “polarizing” among customers.

Bracken said Lexus will unveil two vehicles at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, including a performance vehicle.

“I think when a lot of folks think Lexus, they think of traditional soft luxury,” Bracken said. “We can’t survive just on that. A lot of these young folks are definitely looking for something that is maybe more driver-dynamics oriented, whether or not they have all the driver amenities. It’s a different buyer.”