After introducing its flagship sedan, the LS 500h in the country in January, Toyota's luxury marque, Lexus today unveiled its ES 300h. Priced at Rs 59.13 lakh ex-showroom, the car sits at the very entry-level point in the Lexus’ range in India and is pitched against the Audi A6, BMW 5-series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
The 7th generation ES 300h, which was first showcased at the Beijing Motor Show earlier in April and was officially up for bookings in India in July, bears quintessential Lexus design tell-tales with its large spindle grille upfront and an inverted chrome garnish around the air dam. The overall styling is minimalist with clean side panels giving a sense of flowing creases culminating towards the coupe-styled rear.
ES’ deputy chief engineer, Yukihiro Kito, says that the new model gets a brand-new lightweight chassis, christened the Toyota Global Architecture-K (GA-K) platform for better agility and road manners over the outgoing car. The suspension setup has also been re-calibrated with a McPherson strut setup at the front and a double wishbone setup at the rear. Significant improvements have also been made on the NVH front owing to the changes in the suspension, Kito revealed.
On the inside too, the car personifies luxury with its Takumi (Japanese for artisan) elements in the interior with four colour schemes and three types of trims, for instance, the rich cream upholstery with contrasting deep brown dashboard and door trims. It also gets a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system for crisp, theatre-like surround sound experience. The Lexus ES 300h will be available in nine exterior shade options and a single all-aluminium low-noise alloy wheel design.
Under the hood, the Lexus ES 300h comes powered by Toyota's L4 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol motor, which produces 175bhp and gets mated to its fourth-generation hybrid system which sees the use of a 118bhp permanent magnet motor (PMM) powered by a 244Volt, 204 cell Nickel-Metal Hydride battery. The combined output of the hybrid system is pegged at 214bhp with a pure EV mode also being available.
Lexus India currently operates with its four 'Guest Experience Centres’ located each in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai and Bangalore, and also has four service centres - one each in Kochi, Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Chennai - where Lexus India’s relationship managers are also stationed to facilitate new car bookings and sales.
While the company started off with its Indian operations in March 2017, its sales with the line-up of the LS 500h, NX 300h crossover, RX 450h and LX 450d SUVs, “have been very good so far and very much in-line with the business plan,” according to PB Venugopal, president, Lexus India, who kept away from disclosing any numbers.
“We have 80 percent of the luxury car market captured with these outlets and we are still in the process of studying and knowing the market further; our expansion plan into other cities would be based on that,” he added.
The company had officially opened the bookings of the ES 300h on July 19 and as it has received the CBU cars, it will commence the deliveries in late September or early October.
Where the company is gradually building its customer base in the country, it sees 80 percent of the buyers to be coming from within the parent Toyota family, and of those, a majority 60 percent customers being keen towards getting a hybrid, purely for its sustainability quotient, shares Venugopal.
“We will continue to strive to cater to the needs of our customers in India and to offer products outclassing the regular mobility needs and are rather committed to support the need for sustainable future in India,” he added.
“Also, the count of HNIs in India is growing exponentially and we feel that we have good products to offer them, said N Raja, chairman, Lexus India and deputy managing director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor.
With regard localisation through the CKD route, Raja said, “Volume analysis and government policies are some of the key aspects which will need to be looked into before considering local assembly of the Lexus models in India.”
The luxury car segment in India tallied a total of 35,000 units in the January to December 2017 calendar with Mercedes-Benz leading the pack with 15,330 units. While, BMW stood second at sales of 9,800 units, Audi (7,876) and Volvo Auto India (2,029) completed the overall market in the country, which thought niche, is growing constantly.
INTERVIEW: N Raja, chairman, Lexus India and deputy managing director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor.
There is this anticipation around the FAME 2 policy that hybrids are going to be completely excluded from it. How do you view it?
We keep hearing a lot about it and we are waiting patiently for the policy to come. But, from our side, we keep requesting the government to consider hybrids as we clearly see hybrids as a path forward for electrification. And even the government's thinking is right as their priority is mass mobility and they are looking it from that angle. That journey is going to continue and we will continue to request the government, but, having said that, none of our plans are changing because of lack of support. We continue to move on our path and bring in hybrids.
As you know, Toyota has that big range of hybrids, plug-in hybirds, electrics, as well as fuel-cells. We have all these technologies and at the appropriate time, we will consider them for India. One thing that I can tell you upfront is that for TMC - either Toyota or Lexus - India is a very important market, so, you would see a lot of action.
With hybrids not being given any SOPs, doesn't that give you a price disadvantage?
Yes, we are already at a price disadvantage even today and for CBUs beyond a 3.0-litre engine we are paying a 100 percent import duty, and 60 percent of the vehicle value in case the powertrain is below 3.0-litre capacity. But, we still continue to do business because we find our customers, who are loyal to the Lexus brand.
Are you optimistic with Lexus India’s performance? What are the expansion plans in the near future?
Yes, we are certainly going as per plan and the progress will continue. Currently, we are looking to the eight centres to stabilise and then grow from them and bring more products. So, right now there are no more expansion plans.
Do you see new customers coming in with the introduction of the ES?
The new ES has taken the product to a much higher level and we feel that it will make our existing Toyota customers move forward as well as it would attract more customers in the premium car segment.