The current North American Lexus lineup of 4 sedans, a large retractable-hardtop convertible, 2 truck-based SUVs and a car-based "crossover" SUV is the broadest of any Lexus market in the world. And yet, in an era of niches and targeted specialization, this may not be enough. Indeed, the rumo(u)r mill has been working overtime guessing where Lexus will go next.
In the SUV and "crossover" front, for instance, Lexus' trio of RX, GX and LX, once seemed like overkill. No longer. Rumo(u)rs have variously mentioned a smaller-than-RX "crossover", derived from the Lexus IS and serving as both a replacement for the 1st-generation Lexus IS SportCross and as competition for the BMW X3; a larger-than RX "crossover" SUV with 3-row seating possibly derived from the Lexus GS and resembling the Lexus LF-X concept vehicle; and a "Lexusized" version of the upcoming 2nd-generation Toyota Sequoia, likely wearing the VX570 moniker and becoming the first U.S.-built Lexus, to do battle against the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and Infiniti QX56.
In the car front, the rumo(u)r mill is much quieter. Naturally, expectations are high for the upcoming Lexus IS CC, as England's Auto Express refers to the retractable-hardtop convertible version due some time in 2007, as well as for IS300 and IS500 variants of the sedan. AutoWeek once stated that a cut-down Toyota Crown mule caught at the Nürburgring and strongly resembling the one Chuck Goldsborough's Team Lexus used in developing the Lexus IS350 GT2 racer was, in fact, a prototype for a coupe along the lines of the 1st-generation Lexus SC. And no discussion of future Lexus speculation would be complete, of course, without alluding to the GT500, the production version of the LF-A concept vehicle. This 5-liter V10 supercar is set to debut at either Toyota's first F1 victory (don't count on that one), the 2007 Japan Formula 1 Grand Prix or at the 2007 Tokyo Auto Show.
Left unmentioned and unrumo(u)red by anyone, but quite necessary for the Lexus lineup, in our humble opinion, is a strictly 2-seater (no useless, token back seats, please) retractable-hardtop convertible junior sibling to the Lexus SC430. For the "logic" behind our reasoning, look no further than the German quartet of the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Boxster. Where is the Lexus that battles against these sports cars? The Lexus SC430 is too large, too expensive and too much of a boulevardier to compete against these cars. The Lexus SC's rivals are more upmarket cars such as the Cadillac XLR, Mercedes SL, Jaguar XK and, arguably, the BMW 650 and Maserati Spider. The aforementioned German quartet of small roadsters has sold steadily enough that they've been around for a couple of generations and none of them has been rumo(u)red for extinction. It's also quite feasible that many of their buyers are affluent singles (but not affluent enough to afford, say, a Porsche 911 or Mercedes SL) that, after their sports car fling, settle down, raise a family and need a larger vehicle. An owner of an Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK or Porsche Boxster, if pleased with his or her car, may be more likely to follow it up with a sedan, wagon or SUV from the same marque. (Barring, of course, reliability problems, admittedly a probability in a German car). A small Lexus sports car would serve a similar "entry luxury magnet" purpose as the IS, and would be an ideal complement to our favorite entry luxury sports sedan.
A smaller-than-SC Lexus 2-seater would also dovetail nicely with all those "Toyota Supra revival" rumo(u)rs that never stop making the rounds of the Internet. Among the most intriguing of these are a couple of stories from England's 4Car website predicting that the Supra will return as the Toyota Volca, a lesser-powered, less-expensive version of the Lexus GT500. An interesting counterpoint, however, is provided by my.IS Canada Regional Forum moderator k3vo with information he located and posted in a Garage forum thread, which includes these passages on the upcoming GT500: "Lexus has decided to ditch the aluminum body for a carbon fiber one...The car will weigh in around 2,600 pounds...The two-seater coupe will sell for more than 15 mln yen (US$130,175)" Frankly, it's hard to see how something so exotic and expensive can be decontented enough to form the basis of a new Toyota Volca/Supra that would have to sell for something like US$35,000-$40,000 at the most. On the other hand, a cut-down Lexus IS platform would make a nice, reasonably-priced basis for both a new Toyota Volca/Supra, available in coupe and soft-top convertible body styles, and a Lexus SR300/SR350/SR500 retractable- hardtop convertible. If this idea sounds familiar, it's essentially what Daimler/Chrysler did with its Mercedes SLK/Chrysler Crossfire lineup, but I, for one, wouldn't expect Toyota Volcas/Supras to sit in dealers unsold for a year like Chrysler Crossfires currently are. Another caveat is keeping the curb weight down, which can be tricky with a sedan-derived sports car platform (Nissan 350Z, anyone?)
Still, it's quite surprising that none of the Japanese luxury brands have decided to compete in the Audi TT / BMW Z4 / Mercedes-Benz SLK / Porsche Boxster niche. (although, admittedly, the Nissan 350Z and Chevrolet Corvette could be considered non-luxury brand competitors). Be bold, Lexus, and introduce a sports car for this segment.